Usually I read blogs for information, but I’m drawn to several by the conversational style of the blogger. The writers sound like fun people with keen minds. I think I’d like to read something by them. But when I read a sample of their fiction, I’m disappointed. It’s not the voice I expected.
I’ve also read critiques with more snap and personality than the characters in the critiquer’s stories.
I’m sure it’s not necessary to write fiction in our own voices, whatever that means. Stories don’t have to be about ourselves. But some writers have a conversational style that’s more interesting, fresh, and honest than their fictional creations.
Why is this? Possible answers: self-imposed controls, inexperience, imitating models we like. Writing instructors talk about the need to set the subconscious free and to turn off the internal editor, in the first draft, anyway.
What can we do to find our personal style and carry it into a story? How can we get from here to there? I think it helps to begin with heartfelt emotion and characters who share some trait or experience we can identify with, including antagonists. It helps to think about issues, places, personalities and events and distill them to conviction (point of view!). In any story worth reading, the writer shares lot of herself, not necessarily personality or experiences, but those convictions.
I’ll never forget a paragraph written by a student who avoided F’s only because he was always present and attentive and bravely struggled through homework. The assignment (based on Robert Frost’s Mending Wall) was to write about a personal wall. His wall, he wrote, was his inability to achieve more than a “D,” no matter how hard he tried. His words were heartfelt, his voice true, and his paragraph, a stellar creation. Everybody else wrote what they thought the teacher wanted.
As writers (and maybe in real life), we must not be afraid to show ourselves as naïve, ignorant, or even worse–boring–at least not in the first drafts. We should not adopt styles we think everyone wants to read. Sometimes they’re not as good as our own.