|Writer and avid kayaker Jane Shirley.|
Writer Jane Shirley, today’s guest blogger on The Writing Well, shares her process for creating a strong narrative voice. Jane knows of what she speaks — she has one of the most distinctive voices I’ve had the honor to hear during her readings in Jedwin Smith’s writers’ group that we both participate in every Tuesday evening. Jane, take it away!
There are lots of sneaky ways I tease a voice out of my narrator. The “tracing technique” described below works well. Whenever I feel that I’ve lost my narrator’s voice (frequently!), I return the original inspiration and try again with the next section of my story. I credit the Writers Studio with this teaching me this method. I’ve heard Georgia Writer Hall of Fame inductee Terry Kay and other successful authors mention this method in various workshops.
First, an important clarification: This is NOT plagiarism… the idea is to use the other writer’s technique to get at how you want your narrator to tell the story — NOT to steal their work — which we don’t ever want to do.
Step 1) Find an author you admire. Select a paragraph or so where their character expresses an emotion, performs an activity, or engages in dialog where the narrator’s VOICE is clearly rendered.
Not very artistic or interesting, is it? So I went to Silvia Plath’s book, The Bell Jar. and studied her character, Esther Greenwood. At one point, after a traumatic experience, she describes how a hot bath makes everything better. Here’s what she wrote:
We now know my character is depressed and suicidal. But, we need more if we’re going to follow Sylvia Plath’s lead and flesh out the character’s personality.
“As I paddle home, I recite my litany of memorable martinis. I especially remember the first sip, because that forecasts how the rest will go. I remember the comforting warmth of Gray Goose in a grungy overcrowded bar in Boston when I was a college student. I remember the icky watery taste of weak vodka in the pseudo hi-tech SFO airport bar, and the awful cyber-security job that followed. I remember barstools, bartenders, and counter tops. I yearn to return to the ice-encrusted bar at Red Square, the Russian restaurant in Mandalay Bay, where my Imperia vodka martini was the most perfect temperature I have ever had.”
I frequently remember what I was wearing….
I remember glasses too, the way different shapes encase the swirling currents of icy liquid, and how they skew perspective when reflecting back to me the moments that comprise my life…
With a BA in English from Wellesley College and a Master’s in Technical Writing from Southern Poly, Jane Shirley worked as a technical writer for fifteen years. From 2006 through 2010 she attended TheWriters Studio in New Yorkincluding one year in the online Master Class. She currently participates in writing classes with Jedwin Smith through the Atlanta Writers Club. Jane is developing three different projects:
- Short Story Collection: “Human Jerky – Scary Corporate Fairy Tales”
- Memoir: The Pervert Café – a Memoir
- Fiction: What Passes for Joy – Love and Loss in the Adirondacks 1938/2008