Because I tend to write about cultures that I am not born into there has been, and continues to be, A LOT of inner dialogue about whether I can do justice for the voice I am creating. I know many authors give voice to character’s outside of their culture, experiences and gender. I remember the first time I wrote from the male perspective and I loved it. It was fun to explore the male mind via my character and as a writer I welcome the challenge to tackle experiences outside of my ‘little’ world—in BBTB, one of my characters murdered her husband and in TFTS my protagonist loses her family in the tsunami and is swept up into the world of human trafficking. But I wonder…can we as writer’s ever truly get it right?
I have come to the conclusion, no we can’t get it 100% right; but it is our responsibility as authors to come as close to it as we possibly can. This is certainly what all writers strive to do, and thankfully extensive research guides us along as does learning to listen to our characters when they speak to us.
To assist with the development of voice, there are so many tools available—as a history major I enjoy the process of trying to hit as many of these different vehicles as possible. I have devoured books (fiction/non-fiction), documentaries, movies, googled for days on end and done the happy dance when I’ve uncovered articles, personal accounts, reports, studies and interviews—the possibilities are endless (thank-you, internet). I would be remiss if I did not add, given the…shall we say…bounty of colourful information available in the digital world discretion must be given to the source—stay tuned a future post will tackle this.
Anyway, back to trying to get it right. The perfect situation for me would be to speak with someone for a first-hand account and to have the ability to ask my own questions about their experience/life. Given that the novel I currently am working on, the Beothuks are extinct and have been since the 1800’s provides challenges beyond obtaining a first-hand account. That said, I will say the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and the survivor’s stories shared on the CBC radio were moving and invaluable in the development of currents of change.
As a new writer, learning to listen to my characters has been pivotal in the development of my work. Before I begin a novel, I create a plot outline which is where I intend the direction of my novel to go. I have since learned, as the story develops, and I become more deeply acquainted with my character the plot outline WILL change because my character may not respond to a given situation as I had originally believed.
I can appreciate it might sound a little crazy but as many creative people can attest to we’re simply the vessel that inspiration flows through. Before I embarked on the creative process, I remember reading about song writers who said the lyrics to a hit song just poured out of them and minutes later ta da a hit song.
I know I’m on a roll when my fingers zinging across the keyboard can barely keep up with the thoughts flying out of my head. It’s the best feeling when the last word is down on the page and I read what’s just fallen out of me and I find myself thinking…This is really good. Where the heck did that come from? Well, I know—it’s not me—it’s my character speaking through me.
Another import lesson, I’ve learned from my characters is when editing, to listen to the little voice inside that gently barks at a word or two. As a writer I love playing with words, but this should not be at the expense of my character’s voice. Therefore, it’s of the utmost importance to get rid of an attachment to a word just because it sounds beautiful in a sentence. Listen. It’s this little bark that alerts me to question…is this me? Would my character really say this or, use this word?
I could go on, and on, but don’t worry I won’t. ;) I will conclude by saying, I feel very passionate about human rights and this has lead my writing down the path I am currently treading. I am not First Nation, Metis or Inuit but I would like to add my voice with theirs and I promise I will do my very best to get it right for them, for Nonosbawsut, and his people.
Activist, World traveller. Fan of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.