Saturday, August 18, 2012

The voice journal

When asked to recommend books on writing, The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell often comes up at conferences, at workshops, and on blogs. I finally read it last week, and many of his 'strategies, tactics, and exercises' resonated with me. One of the most intriguing was his idea of a 'voice journal' for each character.

He advocates a stream-of-consciousness journal of a character's speech, documenting his/her description of self in whatever form it takes. The list format I used for my characters, bullet points describing traits and likes/dislikes, fell short in guiding me to full characterizations. So I embraced Mr. Bell's advice, closed my eyes, and let Sophie speak through my fingertips.In minutes, this is what I had:

Hi, my name is Sophie Adler. I’m fourteen and I live with my Mutti, my Papa, and my brother Klaus in a 5 room apt over our family’s bakery in Munich. I always wanted a pet, but my parents said no; since we have the bakery right downstairs it wouldn’t do to have an animal prowling around. I talked them into a cat, to act as a mouser in the alley behind our house. Her name is Skittle, because of the way she scurries away whenever someone tries to pick her up. Cats are that way; they want you when they want you, and when they don't want you they skitter away...

Maybe I like Skittle so much because she’s stealthy, living her life fully and completely as a cat, attached but not attached, watching and observing and waiting for opportunities to be part of the family, part of the group, but really a loner inside. She's like me... Quiet, observant, choosing who to reveal self to, who to avoid, scurrying away when cornered, making her own life in front of people and having a separate life they know nothing about.

The fascinating part about this? I've been writing/revising Sophie's story for several years, and I never had a pet in her story. And yet the prospect of a cat as her self-portrait is apt,and one that gives me whole new ways to frame her character and her story.

I feel refreshed; creating a voice journal for each of my characters will help me establish them more fully. That'll make my rewrites more fun.

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