Friday, June 19, 2009

A Story for the Telling (Part Two)

For those who missed Part One, here's the link.

The Master Storyteller nodded his head. "You have plot, characterization, and your craft has improved."

The little girl chewed her lip. She wanted to pump her fist in the air, but restrained herself in front of the Master Storyteller. She was sure he could see her heart hammering in her chest.

He drummed his fingers once more, then pushed the sparkly binder toward her. "But your story lacks voice." And he flicked his wrist in dismissal.

She blinked, aware that she was to retrieve her story and leave the presence of the Master. But she couldn’t move. "Voice?" While she waited for some kind of clue as to what that meant, she racked her brain for knowledge of the concept.

"Voice." And he called for the next appointment.

With her binder once more clasped to her chest, the little girl moved toward the door. She hesitated, but this time the doorman only shrugged his shoulders and offered her a sad smile. At the entrance to the palace, she glanced around the courtyard unwilling to leave the city. She had come too far to walk away from her dream and with a renewed resolve decided she was in the perfect place to discover more about ‘voice’.

It was only mid day, too early for all the storytellers to be sharing their tales, but there were still plenty for the little girl to listen to. She stopped at the first fabler and focused on his words and the small crowd gathered around. When he had finished, and the audience had shown their appreciation with a smattering of applause, she stepped forward to ask him about voice.

"You must read extensively. The stories you enjoy the most should be the ones you write. I read every day."

She thanked him and moved further into the city. Another storyteller in the midst of entertaining an even larger crowd drew her attention. His story made her laugh along with the audience and she juggled her binder in order to applaud his efforts when he finished. As before, she approached him once the lingering fans had left.

"Write. Write as much as you can and for other reasons than just to tell your story. My journey here included a stint at limerick poetry and couplets in the Land of Rhyme."

With a heartfelt thanks the little girl continued her quest. So far the storytellers who were good enough to work in the City of Tales had alluded to reading and writing. But she did read and write and obviously that was not enough to give her story the uniqueness the Master Storyteller required.

She passed a few more minstrels as she contemplated her voice. A noise to her left pulled her from her reverie. A tremendous group of people was gathered around what the little girl could only surmise to be a fabulous storyteller. She nudged her way through the crowd until she stood at the front and stared in wonder at the tiniest man she had ever seen. He sat upon an upended apple crate, engaging the audience in a story of epic proportions.

By the time he had spun his tale, she and the crowd behind her were entranced. Moments passed in complete silence until the tiny man stood up and bowed his head, breaking the spell and inciting a rousing cheer, thunderous applause, and loud whistles of appreciation. While the crowd slowly dispersed, many going up to the storyteller and offering personal thanks, the little girl took the time to dry her eyes. The beautiful words had moved her to tears.

She waited until the stragglers had left and asked the storyteller about voice, sharing what she had learned from the others. He gestured toward her binder and asked if she had written a story. She said she had and waited to hear his wise words on finding her voice. She was surprised when he asked another question.

"But is it a story for the telling? Have you told your story aloud?"

Of course she had read her story aloud finding the practice helped in perfecting her craft.

"Not the words on paper. Not the way you have written them. Have you read your story from your heart?"


He gestured for her to sit, then he paced before her. "Do not dismiss what the others have told you for reading and writing are very important in learning who you are as a storyteller. But how you tell a story, from your heart, is the key to defining your voice. Anyone can put words upon paper, but each of us has a heart that beats differently. Speaking your story bypasses the mechanics and lets your uniqueness as a storyteller shine through."

Her mind whirled at the storyteller’s insight. Finally she understood why the Master Storyteller dismissed her. She had a story, but it lacked heart. No, it lacked her heart. She jumped up from her seat and thanked the tiny man profusely. He nodded his head and wished her luck.

As she ran through the city, her heart hammering in her chest, she passed the doorman on his way home. He called to her, "Where are you going?"

She slowed only enough to shout back at him over her shoulder, "I must go home and get to work."

"Will you return?"

"Oh, yes. And this time with a story for the telling."

So, People of Blogland, what say you about voice? Do you have any other tips besides reading extensively, writing lots, and reading your story out loud to help a writer find her voice? As a writer looking for her voice, I look forward to your insight and suggestions.



Silver James said...

Ah, the great, grand SNIPE HUNT of finding voice. No. That's unfair. Looking for your voice as a writer is not truly a wild goose chase as much as it can be a frustrating journey. When the discussion of voice comes up, I always point to Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb. For years, she wrote the In Death series under the Robb pseudonym and none of her fans realized it. Personally, I love the Robb books and while I've enjoyed those Roberts books I've read, they aren't on my WIN list.

How to find *your* voice? Listen to yourself. How do you speak when you talk? Tell an old story out loud--like "Jack and Jill," but tell it YOUR way. Listen to the cadence of your voice, the way you describe the setting and your characters. Make note of how you embellish the plot. All of those things make your voice as a writer unique.

Trust me, Janet, when I say you have a unique voice and one that is both entertaining and enlightening.

*you in the generic sense, not personally ;) *One* sounds so...formal, y'know?

Yunaleska said...

I loved this installment! It's so true. I haven't anything more to say, but I will emphasize reading lots (and writing). It's helped me find my voice, and improve my writing.

Helena said...

This is the most elusive part, isn't it? And yet I've heard it so many times. Writing instructors will tell you all about craft and give you many useful tips to make your writing better, but then they will say, 'Just keep writing, and you will find your voice."

You are a wonderful storyteller, Janet, and full of wisdom. Your distinctive voice will ring through the City of Tales one of these days. I can hardly wait for that moment.

Janet C. said...

First, thanks, Silver. I really believe writing this blog is helping me find my voice.

Second, where were you last night when I was trying to get the last storyteller to explain what it means to tell a story. Your advice is exactly what he was trying to say. "TELL IT YOUR WAY". Read it from your heart.

Third, I hear ya on the *one* issue.

Janet C. said...

Hey, Yuna. Yeah, I've heard it over and over again about reading and writing lots. It makes perfect sense - those authors I love to read are telling the stories I love to tell. And as far as the writing goes - I compare it to dancing. If I want to be a dancer, I need to practice - why would wanting to be a writer be any different.

Glad you enjoyed the story :)

Janet C. said...

Thank you, Helena. I hope to be a storyteller in the City of Tales sooner than later :)

It's funny, isn't it? Finding your voice! I had never heard of the term until I began to take this career seriously - then I realized I had to have one! And you are so right in saying it's elusive. Just when you think you've found it, it slips away or you second guess yourself. As Silver said - 'frustrating'!

As a writer who writes in many forms (short story, poetry, romance), have you found the hunt for your voice easier, Helena? Or does the mutli-genre writing play havoc on your quest?

Karyn Good said...

I'm only a few pages away from finishing the first rewrite on Common Ground (pumps fist in air) and I'm very much looking forward to starting the second revision. Hopefully part of that will be amping up my 'voice' and how I want to 'sound'. I think of it as hitting the right note and I recognize it when it happens because my planet of words align.

I do look to my fav authors and fav stories to figure out how I wanted my voice to sound. I want to be just like them only sounding like me.

Ban said...

Silver, I've got friends in WV who told me they wanted to take me snipe hunting - my response ? Aren't they found near the water ? hee hee :D
Anyway, Janet, to me finding voice is like having an epiphany - you can hear the same thing over and over again but then ... one day it suddenly 'clicks' and you no longer 'know' you UNDERSTAND. Voice I believe is what you sound like when you are not TRYING, when you're just being your natural self. Think of how you tell your story in your head, getting the scene and dialog right before typing it out - THAT is your voice. And yes, blogging is a tremendous help because you are more likely to 'be yourself' in this informal setting than while attempting to 'write'. Silver is right, you do have voice and it is very obvious in your posts !

Janet C. said...

Planet of words align - love that phrase, Karyn.

I believe your voice shone through in the very first version I read, Karyn. I'm looking forward to reading the revised (and congrats on getting through it) and hearing more of your 'heart'.

Janet C. said...

I so agree, ban (not with the snipe hunting, for snipes are extinct in this neck of The Prairies :) about the epiphany. I've been working hard on my writing and it wasn't until I started working on this blog and starting another story (Mac and Gillian) that I realized where my uniqueness stood. Now, as I ponder Lady Bells over the summer and decide if I want to continue submitting, I'm thinking of how to let that voice shine through in my storytelling.

It's one thing to go "Aha" and another totally to figure out how to fix a story where you've edited your voice right out of the manuscript. I think I've done that with Lady Bells.

Hey, once I pack up and go 'offline' I'll have lots of time to think - and write :)

Ban said...

Hey Janet - call me crazy but I have an idea ... take a short break from Lady Bells, then, when you feel the call again ... start from scratch. What I mean by that is ... pretend you're the little man in your post and retell your story over again, sticking as closely as you can to the original (without looking at it) but use the words that come to you. I think of all those orator who retold the Homer's epic poems. They stuck to the story as closely as they could but over time, they could not help but add their own voice to it. If too much editing has taken your voice out of the story, that might help ... no ? am I insane ? ah, well, I'm sure I'm in good company.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Put your hand up if you clicked back to the comments on Janet's last blog to see if anyone picked voice...

'I think of it as hitting the right note and I recognize it when it happens because my planet of words align.'
Yup, I agree. (Nice wording Karyn.)

I've been told I have lyrical voice and I think that comes from the sentence structure itself. I wrote poetry and lyrics before I wrote fiction. I would tap out the cadence for my poems to ensure they sounded just right. I do the same for my writing, sometimes spending an hour on one paragraph until it’s fluid and rolls off my tongue like a smooth chocolate pudding.
And although I won’t list them here, I also use a lot of rhetoric devices to jazz up my writing. For those who missed it, you can find that post here:

So I guess I'm getting to know my voice because others have told me what they like about it.

And Janet, you do have a very distinctive voice. Hmmm... light bulb moment here... I'm wondering if we can do a post of anonymous Chick writing samples and the comments can be comprised of guessing who's who. We could be given the same blog topic and each write a 100-150 word para or something because that's the writing we read every day. It might not be scientific, but I think it could be fun.

Excellent post, Janet.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Anita, love the suggestion of spotting anonymous Chick voices.

Janet, I have to say voice is my favourite part of the whole process, it's the thing I don't get to do in academic writing (although I'm starting to ignore them). In fiction I can write with implied sarcasm and people won't read it straight. I can play with proper sentence structure and write verbless fragments. Voice is fine and dandy :)

I know I had one of those epiphany moments when I rewrote the point of view in Eventide, and found my chance to finally meld my voice and her voice, rather than keeping her at a distance and imposing unnecessary commentary on the action. Blog writing has definitely been valuable for getting to know my voice as well, although that could be said for any casual writing. I was very conscious when I started of trying to maintain a natural tone, not sounding all high and mysterious, and eventually struck the right balance.

Digressing a bit, I think it's really interesting that when you came to the clear example of voice in your blog story, it came in the form of oral narrative. We've ended up in such a solitary written culture, inspired, improvised storytelling doesn't occur much any more. I listened to a lovely talk during my History and Future of the Book class, given by author Thomas King, in which he told a First Nations creation story and the Genesis creation story. The tones of the two were vastly different, and the First Nations story was so engaging, so approachable because he made it relatable and brought the audience into it rather than talking at them.

I think of the way you told stories at the retreat, from your 'horror' stories in the north, keeping us up to midnight, to arresting a half-dozen writers in a narrow hallway to talk about hormone research. It was engaging, involving, approachable, with just a touch of self-effacing humour. The way you casually slipped in that reference of your greatest fear of 'flying' at the beginning of your story, and then it all paid off in the end without ever seeming obvious, I thought to myself, "Now that's a damn good storyteller."

Suse said...

Hi Janet, thank you again for a great blog, I mean story. You do have a "voice" that comes through in your blogs and your story telling "around the campfire." If only we all had that gift.

I think I agree with everything that has been said today. Read and write - a lot!

Like anything, we get better at things when we practice them. Eventually we put our own spin on things. Think of some recipe you've made a hundred times. There will come a time when you'll try something different, just for the heck of it, OR because you're missing an ingredient. You try different things and get different results. Some will be good and others not so good. You'll eventually find something that works. I guess what I'm saying is we need to experiment until we find a "recipe" that we like. Now it's no longer someone else's recipe, but our own. Does that make sense?

Janet C. said...

Great minds think alike - or is that crazy people tend to gather and feed off each other's wackiness? I'm seriously considering doing exactly what you suggested, ban! Leave Lady Bells and then when I'm resettled, come back fresh and rewrite it in my voice.

Thanks for coming back with your ideas - and be prepared, I might be calling on the betabloggers in the fall :)

Janet C. said...

I'm hijacking a computer at work (training my replacement and can't be hanging out here on The Prairies all day :( so I'll have to check those comments from last week tonight when I get home. I don't remember if anyone suggested 'voice'. If they did, good on ya!

If you checked out my Ode to the Retreat on the SRW blog, you can see that poetry is not my strong suit. But I do love to write it when Muse takes the notion to rhyme. I admire poets - and I think that lyrical side to writing does help in longer narrative. So good on you for using your strength to your advantage.

We'll have to look into an anonymous Chick posting - but we'll need to wait until the fall, my plate is full to overflowing and, to add another cliche to the mix, I'm barely keeping my head above water.

Janet C. said...

You have a great voice, Hayley. And I love the fact you're combining your snark (please don't be offended by that - I mean it as a complement) with Alkaia's cynicism to create a story for the telling :)

I had difficulty with my 'fairy tale' due to the fact that my storytellers were orators and I wanted to talk about voice as it pertains to written work. Your comments are appropriate. I ended up understanding (great when the storyteller gets the lesson she's trying to convey :) that every story starts in an oral form. We imagine our characters and create a story in our head - just like our ancestors did before quill and parchment. If we remember to 'tell' that story, then our voice will shine through :)

Ooh, doesn't 'arresting' people in a hallway to 'talk' about hormone research smack of a crazed menopausal woman? Yikes. Ah, retreat - loved that weekend. And I do like a captive audience - where else could you all go as I spewed my northern stories of frozen raw meat and Tuktu soup?

Glad you stopped by Hayley - always love your insights.

Janet C. said...

Perfect analogy, Suse. Yes, cooking is the perfect parrallel to writing - making it your own, adding your own spin, creative process! Some of us like things a little spicier. Some keep it close to the original recipe, but tweak to include flavors that appeal to us (or our eaters). And some like it sweeter. We are all unique - and we all have different taste buds.

Sorry, I ran with that analogy and might have over cooked it (couldn't resist). Glad to see you visiting today, Suse.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Janet, calling it snark is probably the nicest thing you could have said. I'm thrilled :)

Jana Richards said...

Hey Janet,
If any writer in the world has a voice, it's got to be you! You are a unique person and a unique writer. Your voice definitely shines through.


Silver James said...

Okay. Finally back. And late. But, hey, it's been a Very Bad Day(tm).

Hayley, taking Alkaia's POV is brilliant.

Janet, I can't wait for you to get moved, settled, and back to work. Will miss you a lot, lady!

And for anyone who's never seen a snipe, think "tribble".

Janet C. said...

Hayley - whew, glad you took that in the spirit it was intended.

Jana - thanks so much. Let's hope I manage to corral it with my new take on Gillian and Mac's story - and the rewrite I have planned for Lady Bells :)

Silver - glad you came back. I can't wait to get settled. I'm not even gone yet, but I feel as if I'm out of the loop. You all don't have too much fun until I can get back to my routine in the fall :)

Helena said...

I'm going to try to answer your question, Janet. Sorry I'm so late that you might even miss this comment. Got back to my hotel a while ago, some red wine coursing through my veins, and began checking emails & such, so don't know how coherent I can be. Plus it's late now!

I think voice is unique to each writer, but it's also possible to have a different voice for the different genres we write in. As you said, blogging has a different flow than more formal writing, and there is a difference between oral and written storytelling. Writing in several genres, as I (attempt) to do, does not make it easier nor is it harder. It's elusive always, but it could be that deciding to write in a different genre might make the writer more aware that the voice required is important.

I was interested in Hayley's comment about academic writing. Even there, I see differences in the voice of one author compared to others attempting to do the same type of exposition. Otherwise, you wouldn't notice differences in style. Plagiarism would be a lot harder to detect, too. (I realise that style and voice are not the same, but for the sake of argument let's say they are.)

Also, some subjects require a different treatment that might be construed as voice. I recall taking a course in Legal Bibliography and one assignment was to write a legal memorandum which follows a prescribed structure. Until that was mastered it was impossible to successfully produce the desired result, even if you had the content down cold. If you missed the "voice" required, it didn't matter how much you knew about the topic because the essence of the assignment was to use all the proper terminology and phrases. That may not seem like a good example, but for me it was an exercise in developing an effective tone and conveying a message, that happened to be a legal opinion, in an effective manner. It required using a certain "voice" that was prescribed, yes, but the process was very similar: looking at good examples of the "genre" and practising (a lot). It was hard work, but satisfying in the end, to get it right.

Oh, dear, time to quit. Too much fun at the alumni reunion! I'm not sure I really know what I'm talking about.

Janet C. said...

Thanks for coming back and answering my question, Helena. First off, have fun this weekend (I assume you are somewhere other than home and at a reunion of some type :)

Second - good point of voice being different depending on the genre. But there still has to be a voice. Silver alluded to that when she talked about Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb.

Thanks to all of you here today, I have much to ponder over the summer as I travel across the country to my new home. I'm hoping with the lack of Internet (although I will have to take some kind of 12 step program to make it through the withdrawals) I'll be able to give full attention to my writing. Come September, I am hoping to be working it as a day job (until I find a day job that pays money) and will have renewed confidence in my craft and my voice.

Thanks, again, Helena. I appreciate your comments :)