Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dangerous Voices of the Fiction Writer

One of my MFA classes has provided a lot of food for thought this semester on the subject of voice.  I've thought of voice as your unique sweet spot, the writing position that you and only you can take and from which your best work will come.  But in this class, we've discussed fiction writers who position their narrator in a different, non-self place with every book, and think of themselves as writing from a new position with each novel.  I've worked so hard on finding MY place this idea is almost shocking to me.

 The up-side of the shock is liberation.  I hate the idea, espoused by some, including the "teacher" I once had at the Mendocino Writer's Conference, that you have to avoid writing in the voice of an oppressed minority person.  The implication that as a writer, you only can feel and imagine what YOU would feel and experience based on your own life, is a straight-jacket to creativity. Write what you know, stick to that: no, I don't want to be that writer.  I love reading Susan Straight, Gayle Brandeis, Madison Smartt Bell, and others who have respectfully imagined their way into someone else's life.  I love the risk, the danger, but the reward in understanding from imagining that different life.

Still, the idea of putting on a new viewpoint with every new work is challenging.  I hope to rise to the occasion, though, since I would like to create work out of ultimate empathy: writing as if I'm another person, out of different experiences of humanity that I can imagine.



Anonymous said...

Hi Laura,
Wow, you had a teacher who said you could only write as a white woman? Pretty restrictive! I would have really hated that. But then, I love risks.

Lorelei said...

Hi Sherry,
Yes, and I was not the only one she called down for writing in a non-self voice. It was very awkward since I'd paid for advice that she refused to give. But it's all in the experience, and I can perhaps write about her someday!

SharonW said...

"I can perhaps write about her someday!"

Payback. It's wonderful.

Just think what dull books we'd write - and what dull books we'd have to read - if authors only wrote about characters who are demographically like them. Hmmm. Maybe that's where some of the world's awful books come from.