Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Finding Your Voice, or, It's All About Worldview

In writing circles, people talk a lot about "finding your voice". This confused me for a very long time, until I realized that what they meant - aside from being consistent stylistically - was "have a coherent worldview that you always write from". In other words: be a an integrated person, and let your writing come out of your true self. Also, hopefully? out of your mature self. (Um, make that, maturing self. As that process oughtn't to come to an end till death.)

Voice has a lot to do, I think, with what you think is important and with what you think is true. You're not supposed to write didactic books (i.e., stories where the moral is the point, rather than the story being the point), but on the other hand, nobody likes stories that lack a moral perspective (even if that perspective as simply as, "happy ever after is good" - a common moral in your basic romance). I think that "voice" is where that moral has to come in. It's not what's explicitly said in the narrative, it's what's implicitly assumed on the part of the author. And those implicit assumptions are a lot of what attract us to an author. For instance, one of my favorite authors, Lois McMaster Bujold, has an implicit assumption that biology matters - that a person is not just soul, but body. Their bodies matter: their disabilities, their level of exhaustion, their gifts, their predispositions, etc. That always comes through in her stories. Her characters aren't just cerebral; their decisions always show up in their bodies or their actions. I appreciate that, and it's something that draws me to her books.

One day, when I was thinking about voice, and about mine in particular, I came across this quotation in Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel:

The gospel of grace calls us to sing of the everyday mystery of intimacy with God instead of always seeking for miracles or visions. It calls us to sing of the spiritual roots of such commonplace experiences as falling in love, telling the truth, raising a child, teaching a class, forgiving each other after we have hurt each other, standing together in the bad weather of life, of surprise and sexuality, and the radiance of existence. Of such is the kingdom of heaven, and of such homely mysteries is genuine religion made. The conversion from mistrust to trust is a confident quest seeking the spiritual meaning of human existence. Grace abounds and walks around the edges of our everyday experience.

I read that recently as I flipped through that book, looking for a certain anecdote. But, in all this thought about what my “voice” as an author is, I thought that this came close to describing it.

My voice is something like “domestic glory”. It’s about home and sex and God. It’s about seeing God’s glory in the middle of home. It’s about what “home” means. It’s about romance and dogged faithfulness. It’s about grace not just once, but every day. It’s about salvation in the midst of grinding tedium. It’s about how grinding tedium isn’t grinding tedium but is, on second glance “a long obedience in the same direction”. It’s about how we, male and female, reflect the glory of God. It’s about how a view of the mountains ravishes your soul but how you are not allowed to spend all your days gazing at the mountains. But about how someday that stomach-dropping thrill of terror and delight will be permanently yours when you fall down at the feet of Christ on the Mountain of the Lord. It’s about how sex is not a spectator sport, but how at the same time sex can be used as a metaphor for just about everything and how we put almost everything into it: hope, fear, delight, duty, joy, desire, anger, escape. And how it’s not just a metaphor, but our en-souled bodies acting out a spiritual truth: this is unity, the two shall be one, the two are still two. And there is fruit that comes of that, there's new life. And in life there is fecundity and there is intricacy and the waste is at war with the abundance, and not everything good survives but everyone who turns to Christ is saved. And life's a mess and we hate the mess and He hates the mess too, but He will come in triumph and judge the living and the dead. And it will one day be all put right and it will one day be finished.

Anyway, I’m babbling now. But this is something like what I’m about. That if you look very hard, you can see it. You can see God’s glory in everyday life. And that every day we walk in the midst of a story. Real life is NOT less interesting than fiction. And good fiction is NOT less true than real life. We walk in the midst of a story. We are not the authors. But if we look closely, we may be able to discern the author’s intent. And if we ask, He may help us to see it as He sees it.

So when I write, I write stories that try to say that. Not by saying all that, like I just did here. That would be non-fiction, and I'm just not that good at it. But this is my worldview; this is what other writers would call my "voice". And if I do my job well, when you read my stories, and follow my characters through their adventures, for an hour or two, you might see the world something like this.

And writing all that makes me remember, once more, why I have to be careful about what I read. Because my thoughts and emotions do tend to echo the novels I've read recently. In other words: there are authors out there who have really good, strong voices, and you should always beware of letting someone else into your head. :D

Anyone else get "book hangover"? And who gives it to you? Is it a good thing, or a bad thing? Or, as I suspect, does it depend on the author?

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell


becca said...

Ahh, book hangover. Sometimes wonderful and sometimes awful, nearly enough to make me want to throw the book in the trash. Usually, though, I pick books that don't end up in the latter kind. Usually, book hangover means that I don't want to consume and sort of media for a couple of days and just sort of bask in the glory of the story, whether happy or sad. Sometimes, it makes me feel like I've lost some friends, especially with really good books like The Lord of the Rings - so I go back and visit them.

Sorry for the rambling comment...

MomCO3 said...

Great post, Jessica.

Emily (Laundry and Lullabies) said...

I get book hangover periodically. I find that it is much worse when it is the bad sort of hangover - lasts longer and is harder to shake. I try to choose my books really carefully now because I realized that reading the wrong sorts of books had a significant impact on my parenting ability.

Amy said...

I generally have good book hangovers. I love the afterglow of a well-written book!

While reading your post, as one who revels in domestic glory, I was heartened to meet another whose world-view is similar to mine. I was also saddened at the same time for much of the world does not see my life that way. To often I am asked if I miss working and when am I going back to work. I wish you could see the faces of those who ask when I tell them my work is at home. I am fulfilled by what I do parenting my children, homeschooling, being a loving wife etc - even when its tedious!

Amy said...

I loved your term--book hangover! The books that usually do it for me are sad or dark, though Sigrid Undset's Trilogy did it for me too. I would think and dream as Kristen did. I mentioned your term in my recent post!