The Lone Voice in a Cast of Thousands

January 9, 2008 at 5:15 am (Uncategorized)

I just glanced at my watch and got the shock of my life realising it was after 3 o’clock. That’s been one speedy day so far… I have just put in a solid six hours of non-stop rewriting on the MS, so I thought I’d better come up for air, say g’day, and then head back into that strange world for another round of blood-letting and teeth-gnashing.

It’s been a good couple of days, actually. I am making more changes upfront, in some cases quite significant, and throughout, in order to hopefully fill in some of the more problematic gaps and address some of the issues that were already on the page.

This time last week I had my follow-up phone consultation with the people at Varuna. There were several limitations to the benefit of this consultation, the first and largest being that the 14,000 opening words they were sent no longer comprise the opening 14,000 words. In fact, they’d have difficulty recognising what I would send today as what I sent back then. Except for the ‘voice,’ that is.

I’m afraid it is probably an indication of my narrow limits as a writer that I only seem to have one ‘voice.’ It doesn’t seem to matter – with the interesting exception of my thesis – what I write, it always sounds like me. Or at least the voice is consistent across mediums and genres. What this means is that the first-person narrator in my manuscript has a voice that won’t be new to readers of this blog or maybe even to readers of my travel writing. Personally I think this is more than a little problematic, not least because the character is not me. Which is not to say I haven’t drawn on my and other people’s experiences in creating her and her life – of course I have. But she is a fiction… and yet I recognise her voice undeniably.

I wrote a short story a little while ago about a very, very different kind of protagonist than the one who appears in my manuscript. This short story character is older, professional, and the story is basically about a phone call. These two characters have absolutely nothing in common, nothing at all. Except that voice. There it was again. I could see it myself when I thought about these stories side by side, so I have no doubt others will see it too, and there doesn’t seem to be very much I can do about it.

I’ve started several other manuscripts about several other people leading several other lives, and still that voice is there, a constant I can’t seem to shift. It’s not me per se, but it is clearly something of me because I’m the one writing it. It’s not my voice, exactly, more that it’s the only voice I have at my disposal. What to do?

To be honest, I’m not sure there’s anything I can do. And I’m not even sure there’s anything I should do. It’s an eerie fact that at a certain point, characters do tend to start writing themselves – you should see the stuff my girl is coming out with now we know each other better! Now that she’s clearer to me, I no longer feel like very much of what happens is under my control, a writing phenomenon that is very weird and entirely thrilling. The best way I can think to describe it without sounding like a complete tool is that it’s as though I started off watching and recording her actions as she moved through the story I plotted for her. And then it started to happen – it’s only really just starting to happen properly now – that she started talking for herself, talking about what moving through that story was like. And I think that’s kind of the direction in which it needed to go.

Whenever I used to think about finally facing all my fears in order to just bloody well try to become a writer, I imagined that there were so many voices in my head, all shouting, clambering for my attention. I thought I’d hear all these distinct voices calling out to me in the night. But it’s not like that. Apparently what I have is one solitary voice that can only try to properly service a cast of thousands. All these different, as yet unwritten characters floating through the mists of my imagination do make demands of me, but so far it seems they’ve only got one spokesperson, one voice, and that spokesperson sounds a lot like me.

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