So, after writing experiments that look at listening (overheard dialogue), tone (emotion), and personal passions and purpose, which all in some way or other are about writing instinctively and easily, let’s bring some of these things together and also extend ourselves slightly by tasking ourselves on adapting our voices for speakers other than ourselves – fictional creations.
I’ve recently read a couple of things that made me think about ventriloquists. From my dictionary:
ventriloquist |vɛnˈtrɪləkwɪst|noun a person, especially an entertainer, who can make their voice appear to come from somewhere else, typically a dummy of a person or animal.
One of these was Laird Hunt’s novel Kind One. Because it contains the sort of story that needs to be experienced directly, I’m not going to say anything about the book other than (1) it uses voices or personas for characters to great effect, and (2) you should get hold of a copy and read it for yourself as soon as you can, as it’s really really good (the judges who shortlisted it for a PEN/Faulkner award clearly agreed). Here’s a sample from close to the start:
Once I lived in a place where demons dwelled. I was one of them. I am old and I was young then, but truth is this was not so long ago, time just took the shackle it had on me and gave it a twist. I live in Indiana now, if you can call these days I spend in this house living. I might as well be hobbled. A thing that lurches across the earth. One bright morning of the world I was in Kentucky. I remember it all. The citizens of the ring of hell I have already planted my flag in do not forget.
Note the seeds of a story, a character already taking form in a particular setting and situation, and the quality of perceptions of that character as they are embodied in sentence structure and word choices. And how all that comes together in the VOICE. Laird is a long way from the reality of that character, but he’s creating a voice that’s coming from that somewhere else (though this character certainly isn’t a dummy!).
So this week task yourself on making your voice appear from someone else. Think about a character you can bring to life, putting him or her in a setting or situation that offers the seeds of a story, then as you start to write in first-person point of view be aware of the sentence structures and word choices that character’s voice uses. Embody that character, be that character, be that voice. Then write for a page, writing something that gets you started on something longer, perhaps.
If you need a prompt or a variation, root out of your library a piece of writing in first-person POV, and then type up a paragraph or two and keep on writing in that voice, but taking the story and character (the content) in your own direction. This has to be your own original creation, after all – no cheating! In fact, once you’ve finished, cut the original copied-out paragraph or two and be sure what remains is all your own.
Finally, a disclaimer: I know Laird. But a good book is a good book. Go and read it!