Source: My fellow white Americans.
Physical voice and writing voice and how I’m learning to tolerate mine.
I’ve never liked my voice. I’m not talking about literary voice, here. I mean my physical, in-person voice. It sounds okay filtered through the bones in my head, but the moment I first heard it recorded, on a tape the neighbor kids and I recorded ourselves on with my sister’s boombox, I recoiled. It managed to be both too high-pitched and too deep at the same time. It still sounds like this, recorded on voicemail, so it wasn’t just the tape. It has a sort of echoey quality, as if two people were talking in unison. Seems like it might be nice, right? Like I’m harmonizing with myself? No. It is not. It is weird, and it doesn’t sound like me. The voice that sounds sort of calm and measured and grown-up and gender-neutral in my head is none of those things outside of my head. It’s not like I had dreams of being a famous singer or anything, but still. It’s disappointing.
My writing voice is kind of the opposite: thin and flat and quiet. There’s no drama in my voice, no hint of a soundtrack to give you the right feelings when it’s not completely clear how you should feel about the events. Maybe that’s why I like to introduce sudden life-threatening events in the middle of stories. Understated interpersonal conflict, and then EXPLOSION! Except, in my writing voice, it’s more like: “There was some interpersonal conflict and then there was an explosion, which was no big deal, but it did change some things.”
By this point I guess I should just work with what I have instead of trying to change it, which means… probably more explosions.
I learned most of the basic fiction-writing concepts in 3rd-7th grade, some via direct teaching in English class, some from just reading a ridiculous amount of fiction. In some cases, I absorbed the idea gradually and then started applying it without thinking about it. In others, I can point to the exact book where it clicked and I immediately changed my own writing.
The E.T. novel — yes, the book based on the movie about the little gray alien — taught me point of view. If you’ve never read it, I recommend it, especially if you’re looking for a virtuoso demonstration of How to Handle Multiple Points of View. Everybody gets at least a few paragraphs from their own pov, including the alien, the biology teacher, and even the dog. And the tone changes to match the character, while still keeping the same basic narrative style. That book was a goddamn revelation to 10-year-old me.
And then there are the habits I picked up without knowing it. I was digging through an old box of papers yesterday and found a stack of partially-finished rough drafts. I skimmed through them, and I noticed a pattern: long, drawn-out beginnings with unnecessary scenes and odd tangents. I like tangents. I think these would have been fine later in the story but, placed where they were, they were just stalling.
And I realized: Shit. I learned pacing from The Lord of the Rings.
So, those stories I sold a long time ago? They were, of course, in now-defunct publications and are difficult or impossible to find. It’s a bit of a relief that a few have fallen into the abyss, but some don’t make me cringe when I find drafts on my hard drive all these years later. So, what the hell. I’m going to self-republish the non-cringey ones as ebooks. I’m starting with a short story called Right of Way because it was the first thing I ever had accepted.