A few posts ago, I encouraged writers to read their work. There is something so scrumptious about tasting the words of your characters in your mouth. You become the conduit through which they are heard and felt. I have always loved performance art. Perhaps, if I didn't have such difficulty memorizing dialogue/lines, I would have auditioned for the stage. Maybe the fact that memorization is a chore for me, I instead focus on getting the voices of my characters just right. I know I will never perform in a play (unless I am the character who enters stage left, nods at the people in the audience, and then walks off stage right). Therefore, I must allow my creative process to help me engage my characters orally. My ultimate goal is, after I've "written" and "talked" my characters into existence, someone who reads a story written by me will "hear" the voices of the characters as if I or the character herself were speaking them out loud. So, below, I share with you my reading of my short story, "Something in the Wash." This story is part of the thesis I wrote entitled Wade in the Water. Please feel free to leave comments below about your writing/reading experiences, or just talk about writing with me.
“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” ~ E. L. Doctorow
Because I was raised as an only child, hearing voices was a normal occurrence for me. Before I could even read, I invented elaborate stories about my stuffed animals, my imaginary friends, and myself. And no matter what the story, I always had a particular voice for each stuffed bear, each long-legged Barbie and each imaginary prince who was coming to sweep me—his little brown-skinned Princess—away to some fairy kingdom.
And when I wasn’t creating my own voices, I would often times sit (well hidden so as not to be seen or disturb the storyteller) and listen to my Dad and his brothers and friends tell elaborate stories about people they knew, and always, always their stories were accompanied by the voices of the person they happened to be talking about. And as a result, these people became more than words out of the storytellers’ mouths, they became living, breathing people who embodied the very soul of the oracle relating the story.
As a result of my “voice-filled” childhood, it became second nature for me to hear the voices of the characters that I would create in my own writing. And until I heard them, until I could hear each character’s individual personality radiate through every word of dialogue, until I heard the very timbre of their voices, my characters did not exist for me.
The voices in your story are the DNA makeup of your characters. The voices are what makes your characters tick. I like knowing all sorts of details about my characters. Things like: Date of birth. Time of birth. Place of birth. Parents names and ages. Siblings names and ages. Etc. I also like to SPEAK OUT LOUD the dialogue of my characters. Speaking out loud is so very important for developing the voice of each character.
If you hear your characters, then you can more easily catch when you’ve written dialogue or action that doesn’t fit with your characters. So, ask yourself: Does your character speak fast? Slow? Does she stutter when she’s nervous? Does she have a drawl or does she speak with the clipped cadence of a Northerner? Walk around. Embody your character – mind, spirit and soul. Ask questions that will allow you to get as deep into the psyche of your character as you can because there is where voice resides. So here are some potential questions you can ask your character during a pre-writing interview. And really act this out. BE the character. Not the writer. Not the reviser/editor. But the actual character from your story. Some of the potential questions you can ask are:
Question 1: What is your earliest memory?
Question 2: Which of your parents showed you the most love? In what way?
Question 3: What type of people did you hang out with in high school?
Question 4: Who was your first sexual partner? Did you enjoy it or not?
Question 5: What is the worst thing you ever did to a person that you loved?
Question 6: What is the worst thing that was ever done to you by someone you thought loved you?
Question 7: How would your family and friends describe you?
Question 8: What is something that you have done or said that you wouldn’t want your mother, father, spouse, and/or children to know about?
Question 9: Are you living your best life? If not, why not?
Question 10: What is the most interesting thing that has ever happened to you?
Question 11: What is your most pressing need right now and what would you do to get it?