Monday, August 22, 2011

Workshop = you - your voice

Agent Kristin Norton has a short and sweet little post up on Pub Rants about voice being workshopped out of students. To which I wholeheartedly agree. When I left college I had a super-quirky but non-functional writer voice. Which the MFA has since beat out of me.

(I should of course admit that the voice I was left with was highly functional -- something I did not have before -- if not terribly interesting.)

I've also since realized that the MFA made me get super distant from my characters (and I used to love love love to be right up in their heads) because I had an instructor or two right at the beginning of my study who loved to dissect the character's neuroses and therefore the author's.  And yeah, okay, so she was normally right on the money with which neuroses my characters held were made up and which were my own.  But that sort of detective work -- and namely, announcing that detective work to my peers -- made me not write characters like me.

I got super-distant from my characters. And then I got despondent. I tried, flailed. Thought about focusing solely on nonfiction without the veil of fiction to obscure what I was saying, then hit on the notion of folklore as the lens to focus my fiction writing through. Thus my big break.

While folklore in the MFA workshop was its own sort of uphill battle, no one stopped to suggest that it was a poignant narrative and if you made it up then all the more poignant.

So I dropped the closeness of my narrative voice in favor of the fairy tale voice. I dropped the quirky wondrous sarcastic voice that had been my signature as an undergrad. A voice that would give me my first fiction publication. And after a 2-3 year hiatus, only now am I slowly attempting to regain that voice.  But certainly not in all  of my works.

Voice is something I struggle dearly with. My writing teachers and peers like to tell me that "I think you've found your voice" whenever they see the writing come together for me.

I've been told, so far, that I have "found my voice" on three vastly different projects. Possibly four -- my memory is faulty.

I've also been told that my voice often waffles within a single piece. Little wonder, all things considered.

I've been told my quirky voice was "it"; that my fairy tale voice was "it"; that my contemporary folklore voice waffled too much but my high fantasy voice was spot on, (read: "it").

Is this a matter of an author having a "soft ear" and therefore being able to pick up many voices? Is it a matter of my own fear closing off avenues? Or is it simply workshop workshopping the voice out of individuals in favor of craft? (which if you read the linked post above,  you'll see is no bad thing so long as craft is learned and voice is regained).  I don't know. I really don't know. But I'll keep trying on new voices for as long as I can. Writing voices fascinate me, much like speaking with accents/dialects fascinate me. Please, don't ask those who knew me in middle school about the Irish accent I adopted after watching The Secret of Roan Inish; the accent came easily to me, and I used it to annoy the crap out of everyone around me.

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