Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The Voices in Your Head by Anne Stormont

Don't ignore the voices in your head, write them down and let them speak...

The word voice is one of nuanced meaning. The term covers a broad range from the literal to the figurative, and it's often about more than what is uttered.

The voice is so much more than the ability to make meaningful sounds. It's a complex process and it's a complex concept. It begins as the inner voice, as thought coded into  language, which may then be given external expression.

At its most literal voice describes the facility to make purposeful and meaningful sound in order to communicate. It's fast, economical and dynamic and it requires the active engagement of the listener in order to be interpreted, understood and responded to. The human voice is a way of giving thought and language verbal expression, but it doesn't have to involve making sound.

Soundless use of voice is possible. The use of sign language by the deaf is testament to that. Watch, or take part in, a soundless, signed conversation and you'll see that 'voice' is still very much present. This fact helps to underline that voice is more than noise-making. Indeed even the spoken word is rarely used on its own and is often enhanced by the silent voices of sign and gesture. And, for both speakers and signers, there's the whole other voice of body language.

Just think of the difference between a voiced phone conversation and one that takes place face-to-face and you'll see how layered the human conversational voice is. And that's just the start.

From earliest history, humans have given voice to their inner thoughts and not simply by speaking. From cave paintings to modern art; from body painting for war and ceremonial purposes to the twenty-first century craze for multi-purpose tattooing; from the earliest signals of drum-beat, ram's horn and pipe, and to the symphony orchestra and pop, rock and rap; from tribal chant to opera and hip-hop; from classical and experimental theatre to blockbuster movie; And from stone tablets and camp-fire storytelling to e-books, the inner voice has many routes to outer expression.

But this is a magazine for writers. So whilst acknowledging all of the above let's turn now to words, to words written down and given voice by the writer, to words that are crafted to stick.

The narrative voice of the writer, when used well, can and should be as powerful and versatile as the musical or speaking voice. It will have its own tone, timbre, rhythm and range. In non-fiction, it will proclaim the purpose and content with clarity. In fiction, the voice will convey plot by building content, tension and resolution; setting by building atmosphere, mood and environment; and character by building personality, age and gender. Whatever the genre the voice should strive to be eloquent, erudite and entertaining.

And, as in music and the spoken word, the narrative voice will also use pause and silence. This allows the reader to reflect and thereby will convey much that is powerful and significant.

The process of creating and employing the narrative voice is mysterious and magical. It's a sort of inexplicable alchemy. Anyone who has undergone any kind of talking therapy will know that you often don't know what you think about something until you say it out loud. A thought may be subconscious, but voicing it brings it to the conscious mind. We all make sense of our lives by voicing our personal stories.

And the same can be true of voicing a written narrative. A character's actions or a plot development can sometimes surprise even the author. An unvoiced thought or idea can appear voiced and out there on paper, almost without the conscious engagement of the writer––now that's awesome.

What is also awesome about narrative voice is its potential effects on its readers. Of course, not everything that's written has life-enhancing and life-changing significance, but even relatively lightweight literature can enhance a life by simply entertaining the reader. The possibilities for a strong narrative voice to inspire, motivate and educate are endless. Just ask any political dictator who uses censorship as a means of control if you're not convinced of the power of the unfettered voice.

Words are affective and effective. Words stick. Writers use their narrative voices to give action to those words. And actions speak even louder. So get using those voices. You never know what they may achieve.

Anne Stormont is an author-publisher. She can be a subversive old bat but maintains a kind heart. As well as writing for this fine organ, she writes fiction for adults – mainly of the female-of-a-certain-age persuasion – and for children. She blogs at http://putitinwriting.me  – where you can find out lots more about her.  

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