Friday, August 13, 2010

Voice...shouldn't every human (and character) have one?


It was back in the summer of 1997, in a Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project (PAWLP) class, when I first heard the term "voice" used in connection with writing. Teacher as Writer, that was the class, and it was also the first time I viewed myself as an actual writer. I remember the ten-or-so teachers in the class with me discussing and struggling to define what voice is and how to explain it to our students.

It's quite elusive.

In true PAWLP style, the teacher suggested we turn to mentor text -- or in non-teacher talk -- examples in essays, poems, memoirs or novels, in other words...real writing, to find where the writer shows a strong voice.

It's easier than it sounds, and it took me ten years in my middle school classroom to amass enough examples to feel like I was doing an adequate job explaining voice. And some kids still didn't get it.

Ralph Fletcher wrote this great book for kids on how to start and fill a Writer's Notebook. It was one of the many tools I used to teach my sixth graders how to write and write from the inside. I think that's where voice comes from, whether it be the actual writer's voice or the voices of the characters the writer creates. Ralph tells kids its easy to write about yourself and your experiences because you know you the best. Simple, yet so true.

Each year I would watch student after student shed layers of doubt and fear...and find their voice...on paper.

I'd like you to try a small experiment with me. Let's call it A Voice Finder. Come on...don't stare at me...it will be fun. Ready?

Grab a sheet of paper and your favorite pen. Press play when you're ready.


video

Now that your back, read through what you wrote and I want you to highlight sentences and phrases that strike a chord with you...make you feel something. Or you just like how they resonate in your head as you read.

I beg that you take your time with this, roll around in your writing a bit, hold hands and snuggle. Get to know how you put words together. And only pay attention to what you like -- silence the critic, stuff a sock in its mouth good and tight. Now is not the time. Put on your rose colored reading glasses and have a sunshiny go with your word-filled paper.

What you highlight...what you connect with, my fine blog friends, is voice. The essence of you. It''s what makes you...you, and you captured it on paper.

So I ask you Mr. and Mrs. Writer, don't your characters deserve the same TLC? Don't they deserve to fill the pages of your manuscript with their essence...their soul? Let them out. Let them romp and feel and fail and soar -- let them do these things in their own voice. Make it real. Always make it real.