I’ve had the good fortune to take a few writing classes taught by Brian Shawver through The Writer’s Place. Either he is a fantastic teacher (very likely since he is now chair of English and Modern Languages at Park University), or I was lucky enough to have the teacher I needed at the time I needed him–maybe both. At any rate, one piece I worked on in one of his classes was Wasting Water. The story is told by a teenaged girl who lives on a farm with her mother and their animals in the near future when the rain has all but stopped. Brian noted that the voice of the character, Livie, is quite different from my own. That was the first time I realized my character’s voice was borrowed in large part from my father, the only person I knew well who had grown up on a farm during hard times and without one of his parents for much of that time.
Voice for a writer, so I am told, tends to be unique to that writer–his or her own way of using words and seeing the world, of interpreting that world and putting that interpretation down on paper. The voice used by Mark Twain in his many writings in unmistakable, as is the voice of Ernest Hemingway. The voice used by Jane Austen would never be mistaken for one of those other authors. Apparently, most editors in the universe are looking for writers with unique and distinctive voices.
I’ve just finished reading a chapter in one of my writing books about the use of voice. One of the things that struck me as good advise was to be sure your voice is consistent throughout any given book. Some writers may have a voice that comes through from the very first and remains constant throughout their career. Others may need to develop theirs over time. As a writer learns and grows, there is the possibility that how they express themselves may change, perhaps even within a single book. That is something I will be watching for in my own writing.
One might think it’s hard to write in anything but your own voice. However, I suspect a character that has a strong personality might be able to express themselves in spite of the author, just as my Livie did. I did not mean to write Wasting Water in my father’s voice, but his was the one I heard in my head. Livie spoke, and I just wrote down what she said.
Wasting Water will be appearing in Undeniable: Writers Respond to Climate Change to be published by Alternating Current Press. They still are open for submissions through April 30, so check it out if you have poetry, nonfiction, fiction, or hybrid pieces dealing with climate change.
Image: My father, John P. Evans; mother, Geneva; older brother, Paul; and me, on a farm my folks once owned. Photographer unknown.