November 10, 2009

Note to Self: It's Your Character's Voice, Not Yours

I recently watched an interview with David Wroblewski (author of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle) who said that there was a period after mouth surgery that he couldn’t speak, and it gave him a whole new view of the world. The main character in Edgar is mute.

I’m also taking a photography class, and every session we spend an hour looking at photos for composition and effective technique. The professor told me that a photo is not a record of a subject but rather a record of the photographer’s interpretation of that subject.

And then there’s the technique for effective fiction in which every detail included is filtered through the consciousness of the protagonist/point of view character. All details should carry their weight and contribute to the overall effect. They should do more than one thing. They should be significant details ~ significant in that they show the reader something about the character.

What do these three things have in common? Well, let’s see if I can articulate it. It’s all about point of view, of finding a very specific and unified view of the world. I’m not going to say “unique” because that word has pretty much lost its meaning (only one of its kind in the world; you can’t be "kind of unique"). And it’s not you the author’s point of view or voice, but that definitely contributes to it.

When I was at Tin House this year, I worked with Jim Shepard (who rocks, by the way), and he said something that made me feel so much better. I asked him, “How do I find my voice? I’m torn between the spare western voice and the more interior lush voice.” He said, “Don’t worry about finding your voice. Find your character’s voice. Maybe you’ll be drawn to certain types of characters and theirs will become known as your voice, but that’s not a question you need to worry about.” It was tremendously freeing.

I guess what I’m saying is that the best we can do is to try to be true to that specific character and their take on the world. Also, all things in that work need to be filtered through that character. And if you do a good enough job, be specific enough and push beyond cliché and the expected, you’ll create a world that others will find interesting, hopefully. It’s not you, not your world, but that of your character, and all things in that work need to contribute to that effect.

What I’m Reading Today: I haven’t had a good chunk of time to sink my teeth into my friend’s zombie novel (hehe) because I can’t bring loose pages into the hot bath at night. And I’ve really needed the hot baths to relax. I can’t wait to get into it though. Last night I read more Mary Gaitskill.

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