Voice, Format, Audience

coyote howlingMercy. Another writing career. The inner machinery of expression – the place I go to inside, to feel words form – is changing again. It’s being altered by the convergence of two worlds from opposite extremes: (1) shaping ever-subtler inner experience into outer form, and (2) practicing the audience-driven formats of screenplays and novels. The collision is creating a new voice.

I didn’t expect this as an independent, supposedly autonomous and single-voiced at last. Long ago, when I left a staff-writer assignment, I kept “sounding like” the old organization for a while – diplomatic, or pontifical, or learned, or earnest, depending on the assignment. Now I realize the past two years of blog posts have come from inside an invisible “organization”: the world of creative inner development, from consciousness to culture to holistic health. I hadn’t understood the extent to which I’d created a personal universe, with its own language – and unspoken assumptions.

For the blog, this was part of the intent: a sort of branding or like-spirited network to share resources and referrals, as well as inspiration and safe harbor in the chaos of the web and “real” life – essays of enthusiasm,  not drama. But I thought my separate dramatic writing had all the suspense, stakes, conflict, pacing, etc. of the movie medium, from an “objective” point of view.

I had no idea how much I was taking for granted, vis-a-vis the readers’ engagement with particular ideas and situations. For example, when I re-read the first chapter of a novella begun a year ago, I found it meandered and assumed the audience was already in that world and shared its symbols and motivations. I began to see it with the eyes of an outsider. I deleted paragraphs, rewrote, reformulated the stakes.

I love the novella-in-progress again now, with its dynamism. While making a character’s evolution more accessible and compelling to an audience, it’s also fun to remember how many people might enjoy the plunge into human depths: at a recent film-school producer-directors’ panel, even the most technical guys said their quality of life improved while filming an adapted novel because the characters were so richly drawn, the themes so intricately developed. So it’s not just the peeps in seats in the dark who will be moved by a fine work of art, not just the financiers, or actors, or overtly sensitive people. Everybody associated with the creation and sharing of high-quality dramatic art is changed by it, even if it remains on the page.

Metaphorically, to reconnect with this blog’s general theme, audiences and formats change our voice in person as well – sometimes obviously and deliberately, and sometimes so subtly that we don’t know we’re being different from encounter to encounter. Or we do know, and aren’t sure whether or how to stop responding uniquely. Turns out “Be yourself” is faintly ridiculous advice, since we’re so many sub-selves, but personal variability makes great literature if it’s deep and honest enough (the search for identity, etc.). When portrayed with insight, interactions of multiple sub-selves, with differing agendas, operate as complex adaptive (evolving) ecologies, like the rest of Nature – so a singular voice needs to reflect these complications, without pretending that one motive or worldview or stereotype describes any character or relationship.

With all this complexity, how can an artist discern a central self, a singular voice, to create coherent art? I remember Julia Cameron’s Vein of Gold, in which she recommends listing favorites in one’s chosen art form, then noticing what they have in common. One’s own vein of gold is the thread of delight that runs through them all, shining in resonance with one’s true voice. Discerning the thread is discerning the the beginnings of the true best self. We are the quality in what we imagine we love on the outside.

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