Finding a Voice

If creative language frequently makes use of voiced forms, does this mean each writer is burdened with the quest to discover his or her unique voice, something expressly original among this huge polyphony of voices? The notion of 'your own voice', 'finding a voice', refers to a writer's stance towards all the creative features of writing as art, including, of course, voice itself. Your voice will be generated by what you write about, the recurrent places, aspects and qualities of the world you represent, by the images you choose to highlight, the types of story or story-like events that hold for you a special fascination.

Some readers might think certain idioms, slang expressions and regional speech qualities to be a handicap. To others the possession of an accent suggests vitality. Conor MacPherson's play The Weir (see Chapter 6, p. 214) is a play written to celebrate voices

(and stories) from the northwest of Ireland. But how do we choose our words, the right words? I don't like the word 'handicap', for instance, even though I found myself using it in a sentence above. Somehow it doesn't have quite the right sound to it, possibly because it's actually disappearing from spoken use. I really want something less old-fashioned sounding: 'dysfunction'? This is a euphemistic term, now therapist-journalese. Another possibility might be 'encumbrance', another 'liability'.

Choice of words depends more than we think on the currents and undercurrents of speech. Creative language incorporates what people say and how they speak—to themselves, to each other—and builds up a rich supply of spoken rhythms. Inside each single voice are many voices, some angry or calm, moral or perverse, some native, others overheard. One of the skills of the writer is learning how to listen to voices—those all around us and within us, those of characters in a story or play. It is as if the writer's job is to write down what his or her characters are saying, remaining wholly faithful to the way they speak. Maybe that is one way, paradoxically, of finding one's own voice—by hearing and recording those of others.

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