Wisdom Not Mine: How to get your writing ignored
I was listening to a public radio station last week—an interview of an actress nominated for her performance in a leading role in one of 2013’s best films. The part of the conversation that most caught my attention did not make it into the final cut of the interview available on the web for me to get the quote right, so they (the actress, the interviewer, and the broadcaster) must here remain nameless.
The question (here paraphrased) was “When you are reading a script, what is it that you find attractive, that makes you want to be a part of this production?”
The answer (here also paraphrased): “You know, that is a very difficult question to answer. I can’t really say. But I can tell you what makes me take that script and throw it across the room and up against the wall. When all the characters speak with the same voice. Scriptwriting is such a difficult art. All the characters spring from the mind of one person, and it is almost impossible for that person to give each character a voice that belongs to him, that is not the writer’s voice.”
As writers, whether of scripts or short stories or novels or narrative nonfiction, we need to be vigilant about that issue: that each of the characters speaks in a voice that is uniquely his own. Each of our characters must be fully drawn as a living breathing human being, the sum of birthplace, parentage, education, livelihood, essences of comedy and tragedy and confusion in daily life across the sum of days so far. Some might think of this as backstory, but there is so much more to it than that.
My characters are not me, and I am not them. Their voices must be different from my own.
Most important of all, I want my pages and my words to be read, and acted upon—not thrown across the room in contempt.