This rather splendid article in the NYT puts its finger on one of the problems of being a modern author – the itty bitty problem of voice. Now that we’re not all writing omnisciently like Dickens or Austen, the aim is to capture the authentic voice of a character, to paint a word portrait as close as possible to the person we’re trying to depict, as they might paint it themselves if they were chatting to you in the pub. The danger is that we try to be too real and just end up writing like ourselves, time after time. This is especially troublesome for first person narrators, who can end up being either too like the author, or oddly like not very much at all (see abandoned novel number one). The best writers can find their characters’ voices without abandoning their own, or over-seasoning with authorial comment. They make you feel they’re in control.
The analogy the article made with method acting is about as close as it gets. We’re trying to write Truth while still capturing a person that is ‘other’. For me, the key to this is to let go, and find those parts of myself I’d rather keep hidden. I let go of my social inhibitions, my shame at some of my emotions and thoughts, and then the writing runs clearer. It’s not always easy, never pretty, and it doesn’t mean I just bash at the keyboard in an angry fashion. You know the feeling when you’re doing it, just as you know the feeling when you’re reading it. Something chimes within you. That’s the best way I have of describing it. A little vibration at your core.
That’s what we’re aiming for. Guess what? Most of the writing day, we miss.
(Thanks to Vanessa Gebbie for the link.)