Monday, January 9, 2012

Hootie Owls and the Writer's Voice

One amazing thing about living in the country is the solitude. I was walking to the barn this morning and it was still fairly dark. As I made my way up the road, I heard something coming from the direction of our hunting cabin far back on the property. It sounded strange. So I stopped and got the dog to stand still as well (very difficult for an ADHD puppy). Listening more, I realized it wasn't just one owl, it was two. I could hear: hoot, hoot, hoot, hoot, hoot, hoot; and then a reply by another one: hoot, hoot, hoot, hoot, hoot, hoot. What stuck me funny was they were saying the exact same thing over and over. What kind of communication says only one thing? Sure, they have a few different calls and screeches, but their language is pretty simple.

Then there are the dolphins and song birds, both with large vocabularies. Besides man, these are the most articulate in their "speech." Man, however, assigns great meaning to our words. They have started wars, ended wars, made people laugh, cry, swell with patriotism, and provoke deep thought. The human language is both beautiful and complex. And our language varies by where you live in the world--even within the same country. Someone who was born and raised in Kentucky will not sound like someone who has lived in New York city all their life; the culture and influence of our surroundings dictate who we are.

OK, to my point--as writers, who are we? Simple, we are products of our own unique upbringings. Some of have more school than others, some have broader ranges of travel and exploration that make them up. Each writer who picks up a pen or sits down at a keyboard has a different view of life. And we should bring that voice to our work--sometimes it needs to be done softly; other times you can shout it out from the top of your lungs. 

Depending on your genre (or genres) you can impart a lot of yourself into your characters or setting. There's nothing wrong with it, just make sure you're not reliving a whole episode of your life on the pages of a book (unless it's a memoir). It's fine for your characters to have a blend of you and them--don't run their lives. Make sure you give them plenty of "breathing room" to develop their own story. Relax, you might be surprised that they write the book for you. There are a few staunch critics out there that say something to the fact: "your characters are just extensions of your imagination- you fully control them, they are not alive."

I disagree with that, and I know a few of you will too. Have you ever been asleep, dreaming of your character, and they say something or do something that brings you out of a dead sleep? Sure it may be your subconscious speaking, but it's a different side of you. It's the side that you "gave" to your characters to live in. And if they are telling you something- listen!

Once you have those wonderful thoughts and words; you need to get them down on something. Here's where your voice comes into play. You are the master of your thoughts and words. It's your job to weave a story that will have readers enthralled from the first page. It's your voice (though your fingers) that will make or break the story. Your grammar, word usage, and diction are unique to you. Even punctuation is rather unique (right or wrong) to each person. What you say on the written page is a direct reflection of you.

So just what makes a writer successful at their game? What is it about the way they tell a story versus another author that makes them best sellers? Sometimes it's hard to tell. Society is made up of plain folks to uber smart ones. Most have a good intelligence, but they are lazy--and I will include myself in this group. Why? Because I hate to read anything that sends me packing for a dictionary every fifth word. Some folks love that, others will put a book down because it's too much work (yeah, I'm one of them). I think the key--and this is just my personal observation, is to keep it simple. Tell a great story, use words you're comfortable with, and keep it easy to read for anyone. 

Perhaps in retrospect, the hootie owls had it right. They were keeping it simple; expressing their wants or needs in simple terms--maybe that's a good thing. Live for the moment, write for the moment, and hope you're leaving a legacy that will be remembered. 

Until next time my creatively obsessed friends,

1 comment:

  1. Keeping it simple is the way I like to go, Kathy. Sure, I'll add in a few words here and there that aren't conventional street words, but most of my readers are after the flow of the stories and not my knowledge of big words.

    As for letting the characters set the story up for you: you are spot on! Let them work their magic and make your job easier.

    Great post!

    Hoot, hoot!