Writers build up worlds, make them real, emphasise and illumi-nate them through images. Through voices they hold our attention, remind us of the varying tones of speech. Through stories told and heard they show the way our thoughts are shaped by narrative, how we shape the thoughts and lives of others and ourselves. From among the features by which we identify writing as an art form, in this first chapter I have selected four that produce a consistently powerful impact for writers and readers. These are voice, world, image and story. Without these elements our practice as writers would become disadvantaged. Creative language would not be as it is, neither would we read with the special attention and pleasure it generates.
Story implies structure, and structure meaning. Stories are told by voices creating images; voices also build and inhabit worlds. A writer staying close to the voices of characters has more chance of crossing over into their rhythm of living, of involving readers in that rhythm, so that as readers we feel we know it for ourselves. The use of speaking and thinking voices in writing seems to be a key quality, perhaps the most important skill of all for a writer to learn. But then, if we think about it, the voices that most hold our attention are those that tell stories, generate images, make their world as real to us as our own.
In this chapter I shall begin my exploration of how these quali-ties interact. Not one of them stands alone as the central foundation. But it may be that each of the five genres I cover in this book—memoir or personal narrative, poetry, fiction, chil-dren's writing and drama—typically favours one quality above others. We might see image as the domain of poets. We might expect voice to be the foremost interest of any dramatist, while story dominates every instance of prose fiction or memoir. It will help, however, if we don't make these assumptions. A successful poem can be written as dramatic story. A piece of short fiction might have very little in the way of narrative. Voices might not always be appropriate. Obviously there will be differences within genres, between writers. While Alan Ayckbourn writes by devising a carefully plotted story, Harold Pinter describes a play as 'an evolving and compulsive dramatic image' (Pinter, 1976:12). The emphasis may change from writer to writer, but to value their impact we need to experience voice, world, image and story as strengths, qualities, amazing creative inventions. What is it that they do? How do they work? This chapter will be the first step in discovering some answers to these questions.
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