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Friday, May 04, 2007

Your Voice, Re/Presentation

In response then to SK's questions in yesterday's post regarding one's voice and the notion of RE-PRESENTING one's concerns, issues, etc. A quick reminder:

I would be interested to see what you have to say about really developing a 'voice', that is, how to re/present your concerns in a work. For just knowing your concerns and your story can't be enough to have a voice, can it? You have to not just know what your story is about, and it be something individual to you, but also to somehow get that individuality across to the reader. So how do you look at something you're written and tell whether it has a 'voice'; how do you identify areas where the voice is strong or weak, and how do you rewrite to bolster the weak ones? If you do know what you're writing about, and you do have something to say, but you don't have a voice, how can you learn to put a voice in? Can you?

I believe knowing your concerns can absolutely help in developing your voice. Knowing what you want to talk about, what message you want to send, can help you choose not only genre but subject matter and the way in which you structure it and why. As an example here, if we were to take the philosophical notions of existence and epistemology - that is, the theory of knowledge; how we know what we know in essence - these concerns lend themselves particularly well to the sci-fi and supernatural thriller genres. As we've seen, multiple times, writers have taken these notions and produced such stories as I, Robot, the Matrix, The Final Cut, Stigmata, Dust Devil and Stir of Echoes. Behind all of these films, whether you like them or not, the writer/s have a something to say: they have woven their thoughts, opinions and experiences of real life into these very (paradoxically) unreal films (hyper-real), involving dystopian views of the future and/or the ways in which we all perceive the world around us.

So, having "something to say" (that all-important message in effect), can be the spark or catalyst that starts off the chain reaction of ideas that leads towards your story in my view. Having "something to say" that's personal to you - and not a copy of someone else's POV - is what shows your individuality to The Reader. I'm very interested in those notions of epistemology and existence too; it's no accident then that these form the basis of both my horror and supernatural thriller. The ethereal can re/present the unreal well in my opinion and from the desire to show my concerns, two very different, hyper-real stories grew from the same message, which is You have to face up to who you really are. I believe this in my own life; I believe it even when sometimes the "truth" is unpleasant and I've had to face things about myself and my own personality that are not always palatable. However, I also believe that good will come in the end and as a result, it's therefore no accident that all of my scripts have a "happy" ending, even when on the surface they may appear negative.

The Reader can tell from the page who has something to say and who has not. It's somehow tangible. Think of it in this way: you read a confession to a murder on a piece of paper. You don't know who wrote it, but SOMEONE asks you to tell them whether you think it is true or not. In this case, you believe it is true. You're not really sure why; it's a gut feeling thing. Perhaps there's lots of detail or the Writer of the confession appears to know things they shouldn't. The Person who asks you whether it's true or false congratulates you: you're right. It is true. Gut feeling has a lot to do with "voice" - either on your behalf or the Reader's. If you feel like you've put your heart and soul into a project, chances are, a good Reader will see it too. I've read lots of scripts that have been interesting, yet I've recongised too much of other films, books, whatever to make the story part of the Writer who wrote it - it's second-hand, if you like. However, I have read just as many scripts that have read like that confession to murder: I've got the gut feeling that this is THEIR story, or THEIR feelings on a particular issue or concern. It's that sense of THEM that communicates their voice.

How you identify areas where your voice is strong or weak and how you re-write bolster weak areas is a real toughie, since I'm not too sure it's so black and white. I'm also unsure a script can be weak on voice at the same time as strong. Even a deeply flawed script can be "good" if its voice is strong. It is possible to see the maddest of stories, the biggest mess of structure, the hugest soup of visuals and say: "This has something to say. I just don't know what" like that agent I told you about yesterday. As for not having a voice but can you learn to put one in, as Matt says in the comments in yesterday's post: if you write about something that really "fires you", how can your voice NOT come out? I'd venture that only those writers who let themselves be influenced too much (whatever "too much" means) bu other people/writers/films etc will be voiceless. However, as this is such a contentious issue, I'd be interested to hear what other Scribes have to say on this as well though. Over to you...


SK said...

Thanks for answering.

I'm slightly worried about your 'murder confession' analogy. I certainly wouldn't go with 'gut feeling' on anything so important as determining guilt of a serious crime, and perhaps that's colouring my reading of the rest of your argument, but I'm not certain about the use of 'gut feeling' when evaluating written work either -- especially one's own. For one thing, one is probably too close to the work for one's gut feeling in general to be reliable; but for another, and more specifically to the point of looking for 'voice', one knows what one was trying to say with a piece so one is surely apt to read into the work what one expects to find there?

The logical endpoint of that argument is that one cannot determine presence of voice in one's own work but must ask someoen else to read it cold; which is fine, except one is then relying on their gut feeling which, again, is hardly the ideal situation. Not meaning to impune anyone in particular: anyone's gut feeling is necessarily suspect, as by their very nature 'gut feelings' are not reliable. Indeed 'gut feelings' generally mean 'I believe this but I'm not sure why', and signify a lack of understanding: when we understand better, we know why we believe something and are able to give a more informed judgement than at the stage when we rely on 'gut feeling'. In your analogy this would be moving form 'I have a gut feeling this confession is genuine' to 'I believe this confession is genuine because it has in it this information that was never released to the public'. Of course these well-founded beliefs can still be wrong, but they are more reliable than 'gut feelings'.

And while hardly as much hinges on correctly assessing voice in a piece of prose or drama as on a murder confession, it's still -- to me at least when speaking as a writer -- very important, too important to really leave to 'gut feeling' if at all possible. You mention in your analogy the person who presented you with the confessions congratulating you: you got it right. But what about those non-trivial proportion of cases -- for even the best confession-reader, relying on 'gut feeling', will be wrong a fair few times -- when you got it wrong?

The idea behind a script with weak areas and strong areas of voice was, for example, one where the writer's world-view and concerns came over strongly in the plot but the characters were less expressive of it, or vice-versa. Or perhaps plot and characters both expressed world-view and concerns well but the sign-systems less so. It's one thing to be able to identify that a sign-system is confused or contradictory, or have symbols switch signifcances halfway through -- I can do that, what you identify as 'craft' -- but how to identify that a sign-system does not sufficiently convey the worldview and concerns of the piece -- what you identify as 'voice' -- and fix it, that's what I'm not sure about.

As for 'if you write about something that really "fires you", how can your voice NOT come out?' -- well, simply, if you don't have the skill to communicate the topic, that it fires you, and what it is about it that fires you, to the reader. You can be the most passionate person in the world about some subject, but if you cannot communicate that passion -- which is, if I understand you right, what 'voice' amounts to -- then you lack a voice.

Lucy said...

To convict another on the basis of gut feeling would of course be highly undesirable, not to mention unacceptable; what I am trying to illustrate is the idea that one has certain ideas about "stuff" just because one "does": does this neccessarily indicate a lack of knowledge or understanding? I would argue no, since I believe in the Rationalist approach of having innate ideas, pre-programmed just because they simply ARE - which in turn form the foundations of why one approaches one's concerns and issues. However, how we know what we know - or not, as the case may be - is not only highly contentious but an issue of perception, so I am not trying to argue I am right or anything as presumptuous as that; we all make our own decisions, based on our own experiences and perceptions.

But "gut feeling" I do think forms part of script reading - this is why some people "get" your script and others just don't. Some people will connect with your material. Others won't. Sometimes people will like your voice, sometimes not. As for getting it "wrong", I've not met a single person who hasn't got it "wrong" whether it's reading, writing or anything else, but as Goldman says, "No one knows what the hell they're doing."

Personally, if you are passionate about something, I just don't see how you CAN'T get that passion across, even if you can't write a decent script. I've read the most mentally formatted scripts on the planet with extremely bad structure and bizarre characterisation, yet have still thought at the end, "Yes. That person LOVES that premise/story/issue/etc." But that's just my perception. ; )

BTW - congrats on having the longest comment ever here!

Eleanor said...

New to the blog - nice! Like it. :)

Just to be utterly simplistic, surely voice is just a writer who is comfortable in their own shoes, writing.

It's about knowing yourself; it's about being -- rather than trying to be.

If you are not confident in yourself/not confident in your writing, I feel that your voice will be frail -- your fear will likely prevent you from communicating naturally and effectively.

But then, I write therefore I am/I am therefore I write ... so I'm biased.

Being voiceless IMO, is being afraid to stand up and lay it on the table the way you think it should be. Lack of confidence. Fear.

Writing utter bollocks about something is just as much evidence of voice as writing an informed commentary. Just be yourself.

My 2 cents. Take em, or leave em. :)