Authorial Voice … And How Do I Get Me One of Those?
© 2014 All Rights Reserved
As a writer, I don’t pay much attention to this and I’ll explain why later, but as an Editor for a small magazine, authorial voice is hugely important when we make our decision to accept or decline a piece for publication. It’s worth talking about.
So what the heck is Authorial Voice? In a nutshell, it’s how writers articulate themselves, or rather: it’s how they tell a story.
Authorial voice encompasses a lot of things and it’s as unique as a fingerprint. It has nothing to do with breaking the 4th wall or whether or not the writer uses the work as a soapbox. Authorial voice is much more organic and much more intimate than that. It’s not a device at all, and it’s not something you can beg, borrow, or steal. It’s something that happens as a writer matures, and it cannot be taught in the workshop setting. It can’t be taught period. It comes from experience and maturity.
Authorial voice is a combination of a writer’s perspective and how they articulate that perspective via the written word: how they punctuate, what words they choose to use, what things they choose to describe and not to describe, and what devices and words they use to do so. It’s in how they plot a story, or don’t plot a story. It’s in their syntax, their phraseology, how they construct their sentences, and the mood and movement of those sentences. It’s not a style or technique, though a writer’s voice can be influenced by those things, and it can be influenced by the style, technique, and the voices of their own favorite authors. No two writers have the same influences, so if you’re an attentive reader, you’ll see that no two writers sound the same. And it all starts with language. It starts with how we learned to speak and write and what influenced us along the way, be that our local culture and dialect, what we gleaned from watching TV and film, and the voices we heard and/or read along the way: the voices of other authors and the voices of the world around us.
In the early stages of the writing journey — once we’ve learned proper grammar — we are then taught the basic rules of story construction. We’ve all seen the Writing for Dummies books. We learn basic technique and construction. We learn about beginnings, middles, and ends. We learn how to construct dialog; how to use simple language; how to avoid the adverbs and info dumps; what imagery is, etc. blah blah blah. These things are important to learn, and they produce competent writing that conforms to a set of easy to comprehend standards. Standards are good. However, as an Editor, I feel the rules produce good, well-written, but often boring stories. The flavor is missing, and that flavor comes from the writer. It comes when a competent writer, who knows all the rules and standards, decides to break them. It comes from experimentation. It comes from a writer who is finally not afraid to toss convention to the wind, a writer who is not afraid to stop trying to imitate those they adore, and a writer who is not afraid to speak honestly as themselves. Over time, the voice, our voice, just happens. The more we read, speak, write, and interact with the world around us, the more pronounced and unique our voice becomes, and as an Editor, that’s what I want to hit the page. Personality! Yeah, that’s what it is. Every story has been told before, so the ones I choose to publish are chosen because of how the writer told the story, the rules they broke or didn’t break, the choices they made, and their unique perspective on the subject matter.
Now voice, just like technique and all those other wildly scary variables we find in the written word, can be well received or not. Not everyone is going to like your voice, and so some writers choose to repress the voice and simply write to the standard conventions. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, and it has its place. It produces a sense of sameness, and that is comforting to a lot of readers, mostly readers who have a rigid set of expectations when it comes to the fiction they like, but … and there is always a big but, isn’t there?
But I am not one of those readers. I am also not one of those Editors, and my little Lit-zine is not one of those venues. I loathe expectations. I want to be surprised, so I look for voice above all else because that, to me, is where the real art comes from. It comes from writers who were willing to take risks; it comes from writers who weren’t afraid to put themselves on the page; and that’s why, as a writer, I don’t think about it too much. Voice is a natural process: it can’t be mindfully cultivated or hurried along. It just happens when you write honestly, when you write for yourself. It comes with time.
On Writing Horror – A Fan-girl’s Thoughts
© 2014 All Rights Reserved
First, let’s dispense with the Literary versus Genre argument, in which it is often said that genre fiction is the lesser of the two. I’ve never gone in for that sort of thing because I have found that good genre fiction deals with all the same issues, philosophical or otherwise, and often does it in a more creative and entertaining way, which is why we love genre fiction so much.
Now I don’t really write horror, not in my opinion anyway, as most of my fiction is cross-genre with literary themes wrapped around elements of horror, romance, fantasy, and historical fiction. That said, much of my short fiction would be classified as horror so it can be packaged in a nice neat little box for consumers, and so when I read articles like this in the Atlantic, it inspires me to think about my own motivations for writing what I write. In the article it states:
The good-versus-evil/monster-hunt narrative is a way to manage the incomprehensible. Evil doesn’t need to be understood, just eliminated. So the desire for answers is satisfied; the burden of parsing a killer’s complicated motivation falls away. All the messy details are composited into a single figure: the serial killer. This boogeyman-like entity has become less of a threat than a stock character, useful for selling publications and spicing up fictional stories.
I like being scared. I was a Saturday afternoon horror movie kid, and to be honest, the archetypal stabby naked-teenager-killing slasher holds little appeal for me. It’s boring. So fucking boring. Violence does not frighten me. Vampires, blobs, shape-shifting hairy gonads and Satan babies do not frighten me, and neither do alien creatures and rampant viruses.
People frighten me. They are often irrational, hysterical, ego-maniacal freaks who seem to always be a cunt-hair away from the edge of sanity at the best of times. Of course that is a generalization, and not all people are like this, but just peruse the news on any given day and it will seem like humanity has officially descended into madness. And the news is where I get most of my inspiration when it comes to my horror fiction. No surprise really.
So as a horror fan and a fiction writer who writes a lot of very creepy disturbing shit, “parsing a killer’s complicated motivation” is the only thing I am interested in when reading, watching, or writing my own horror fiction. I need to dig in deeply. I need to explore the psychology because when I experience it in whatever form, it has to feel authentic. Authenticity is more frightening than any clown costume — well, except Twisty. He’s a nightmare. So as a writer, if I don’t understand why my killers — or my lovers for that matter — do what they do then how can I expect a reader to feel the full magnitude of the experience, to get that chill in their gut because on some subconscious level, they can relate to the monster? They can’t believe it unless I do. That’s my motivation, I suppose. I got straight As in my Psych and Sociology classes.
Now I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I admire the monsters. Maybe on some level I can connect and maybe even sympathize with them to some degree because I have spent a huge amount of time with them in my head. Even in my totally hardcore horror stories, you will find a relationship there: between the killer and their victim, between the killer and society, between the killer and God, and between the killer and their own respective ids and egos. I think those relationships are worth exploring, just like any other relationship. That’s why movies like<em> 28 Days Later</em> and TV shows like <em>The Walking Dead</em> are so popular. The creatures are basically a nuisance. People are the monsters, and that idea is the most frightening of all. I do try to capture that in my own fiction, which can, on occasion, come off a bit raw, but horror readers seem to appreciate that, so I try to be fearless when I can.
So why do I write horror? Did I answer that? Oh well, I guess I write horror because I enjoy the psychological journey. Lame? Maybe, but that’s the real reason. I never sat down and intended to write horror fiction. It just happened. The gentle prodding from some of my author friends had a bit to do with it as well.
I Am Girl
© 2015 All Rights Reserved
In this flavorwire article titled Let’s Stop Telling Women They Can’t Love Misogynist Art, Ms. Sarah Seltzer makes one statement that really strikes me as a writer and as a woman and a feminist. I could relate to the entire article, but this line stuck in my head. She was speaking of a song here, but it applies to all art really:
“[…] the misogyny it expresses feels real and dynamic to me, and it excites me even as it offends me.”
As an art appreciator, I’ll readily admit that the more trigger warnings a book or a movie has, the more I want to experience it. The more potentially offensive and complicated a piece of art is, the more intense the intellectual experience is for me. Being offended is easy, but understanding the offense — its social and psychological dynamic — and why it offends me, why it makes me feel angry or uncomfortable, is difficult. Most people would rather not deal with the difficult. Our own personal ideology feels challenged when we are exposed to the difficult, and so the anger we express at offensive content and ideas often comes from a place of fear. That fear in many cases is very very real, especially when it comes to violent content. However, ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. Not in the fictional world. Not in the real world. Some of us choose to limit our exposure to such content for various reasons, and there is nothing wrong with that. Some of us choose to glut on it in what might be a feeble attempt to understand it and put our own feelings about it into a context that has some perspective relevant to our own lives, and there is nothing wrong with that either.
Vicariously experiencing the potentially offensive thing in question does not mean we agree with or condone the potentially offensive thing in question.
Look, I write from the scum-bucket misogynistic point of view quite a bit. In viewing and subsequently writing such vile and despicable characters, I acknowledge their existence in the world, and in a way, writing about them allows me to express my own fear, anger, and disgust vicariously through them. Stressful? Yes. Cathartic? Most definitely. I choose to write that type of character for the same reasons that I enjoy them on television, in film, or in the fiction I adore. Does it make me less of a woman to read and appreciate Lolita or to write about a rapist as I did in The Kissing Room? Does it make me less of a feminist to acknowledge instead of ignoring the misogyny or any other potentially offensive topic? No. It does not, and I write just as many vile female characters as male. I write about monsters, and in my opinion, men don’t always have the majority in that market sector.
So yes. Let’s.
Let’s stop telling women that they can’t enjoy and appreciate misogynistic art — any art for that matter. Or high heels. Or lipstick. Or submissiveness. Or flannel. Or BDSM. Or whatever. Women have the right to be whatever kind of woman they want to be. Whatever kind of feminist they want to be, or not. I’m a woman writer. I don’t write like a gay man. Yes, I was once told that by a male reader, and I find that very offensive. Some of my fiction is soft and poetic. Some of my fiction is horrifying and aggressive. My being a woman has no bearing on how I write. Or what I choose to write about. Or what I read. Or what I watch on TV. Or what art I like or don’t like. My being a woman is just my gender. It has very little to do with who I am as a person. So don’t box me in or tell me how to be GIRL. It’s the only thing I’ve actually figured out how to do, and I do it my own way.
The Resolution Obsession
© 2015 All Rights Reserved
If I hear the word closure one more time, I am going to scream. Very loud.
So what brought this on? Nothing really. Everything. And that damn Sopranos ending that people still insistently poke and prod at because they didn’t get their neat little bow on top. It’s been eight years and David Chase still has to justify that ending, an ending I thought was mysterious, philosophically creative, and absolutely brilliant.
I’m sure there is some deep-seated psychology behind the need to wrap up loose ends, fill in plot holes, and finish a story with a neat done, finished, don’t have to think about it anymore ever after. Flavorwire seems to think that this obsession with resolution is killing television. I think it’s killing creativity, period, in television, in film, and in literature.
I hate it. I hate it about as much as I hate the likable character obsession, and the reason why I hate this shit is simple: It puts the creator in chains. Why? Because oftentimes the artist feels forced to create in a vacuum where everything is sucked, rather insistently, towards the nice, neat, perfect little ending.
Maybe it’s the flash fiction writer or the abstract art lover in me. Maybe I appreciate experimentation and ambiguity more than most people because of that fact. Whatever. Maybe it’s simply that I feel art — any art, including television — is meant to be reflected upon: socially, philosophically, metaphysically, theologically, and all those other things that end in “ally.” Even behaviorally and sexually. We got brains so we can think deeply about stuff, whether we can relate to it or not, and we aren’t given the opportunity to think if we are handed a nice neat plot and a nice neat ending. I like thinky stuff.
When I wrote The Kissing Room, it was my first novella, and because it is sort of a romantic thriller, I felt boxed in. Held back. I felt that I had to offer up an HEA, and so I did. To this day, ten years later, it’s still my most popular download, and that makes me angry a little. Why? It’s not my best book. Character motivations are out in plain sight. I use a rather formulaic plot trajectory, and despite the disturbing trigger warning elements of the story, it moves along quite predictably to that HEA. If I were to rewrite it, I’d tear it to shreds.
Despite that suffocating feeling, I kept on writing in my little mission box, until, after reading a portion of my current WIP, a good friend and writing partner said to me that he thought I was holding back. He was right. I was. I was so afraid that my work wouldn’t be embraced by mainstream readers that I censored myself at the expense of experimentation and the art I wanted to create.
I stopped doing that.
I get negative commentary because of it: I couldn’t relate to the characters. I wasn’t sure I understood what was happening in the story. Not sure if the ending resolved things for me. Hate the characters. Things didn’t change by the end. Blah. Blah. Blah.
I stopped doing that.
In Splendor of Antiquity, a theological romantic adventure, I don’t explain the characters, and I never reveal the name of the dead King narrator, even though Joliette knew who he was.
In Thin Wall, an erotic literary romance, the characters are often loathsome, even to each other, and nothing really changes in the end because it doesn’t have to. Also, despite the mention of de Sade, there is no torture porn. Sorry. Ha! No I’m not.
In Logos, a metaphysical fantasy, I never say exactly what happens in the end. Is Ilsebet dead? Is she not dead? WTF. That’s right. WTF.
And I did the same with Death Dreamt, a philosophical horror story. I never identify the killer. Their motivations. Or what actually happens to Rowan and Killy.
I stopped doing all dat shizzle.
My flash fiction is pure chaos, and in my newest WIP titled Knowing Joe, I’m taking ambiguity to the nth degree. Even the characters don’t know WTF is going on most of the time. But it’s a comedy — a non-sex, non-romance, romantic comedy — and I’m having an all-out blast writing it even though I haven’t a clue what I’m doing.
Because I said fuck it and busted out of the mission box. Come what may.
Of course, other’s mileage will vary depending on the genre they choose, as some of them genre slots got more rules than others. Personally, I hate rules and prefer writing without a safety net.