So last weekend a friend of mine pulled me out onto his patio to enable his smoking habit and listen to him bounce around some ideas he's got for potential stories. This turned into a pretty deep philosophical discussion about the shape of the world and where we--as a global society--could be headed. One thing that came up was homogenization and the destruction of voices that are seen as "dissonant". Got me thinking about writers and peer critiques and such.
So tonight I would like to talk about Voice.
Have you ever watched a performance by Blue Man Group? Even a video? If you haven't go here and educate yourself. I'll wait. Now, while it may just look like a few guys in black pajamas beating on Home Depot rejects, there's so much more to the Blue Man. One thing that has always drawn me to BMG is their commentaries on personality.
The performers themselves put ego aside and dress the same as their partners. You don't see Bryce Flint-Summerville or Eric Gebow on stage...you see a Blue Man. And yet, these three near-identical beings are so varied! Each has his own personality. Each performer brings something unique to the table and creates a vibrant character. On the other side of the coin, you have the Blue Man's ideas about what our society is like. The Blue Man sees us as look-a-like drones working in soul-stifling mazes, replaceable cogs in a machine, slaves to the status quo. All at once, the Blue Man presents a mirror and a window into possibility. It's fascinating.
But it wouldn't be the same if the directors and creators of Blue Man Group gave everyone a hard and fast script, if they said, "Be like me and leave all individual nuances at the door." No theatrical or musical performance could rivet an audience if that were the case. Musicians follow a score and play the notes on the page, but the soul of a piece is what stirs emotion in the listener.
So, too, is it with writing.
Just like you can turn on a radio and know a band by the style and sound of the song, you can open a book and find an author's voice. There's a cadence to the words, a flow of speech and dialect that can serve as a literary fingerprint. Jim Butcher sounds different than Charlaine Harris sounds different than Chris Moore et cetra ad infinitum. That's what we love about the authors we go apeshit about. It's that distinct quality that draws us into their well-crafted tales, it's the VOICE of the author.
One thing I worry about, though, with the crop of self-proclaimed aspiring authors. (Never say you're "aspiring". You're a writer or you're not. You can be a neophyte, but if you put pen to paper, you're a goddamn author. Own it, bask in it, bathe in it and fucking cherish it. No apologies.) I worry that many people are aspiring so hard to "get it right" that they are losing their voices before they even have a chance to grow. I worry that with critique groups, some of us are trying to replace an author's blossoming style with what WE want our own to be.
I can read a post on Chuck Wendig's blog and be in absolute awe and say, "Damn I wish I could write like that." But at the end of the day, throwing the word "cockwaffle" into my posts isn't going to make me like him. It makes me a pretender. And it means that I'm not respecting my individual voice.
Everyone has something to say. Some of us may have the same stories to tell, but it's the way we tell them that makes all the difference. What fun would it be if we all sounded the same?