Finding My Voice: Perception, Audacity, & Wit in Character Conflict.
Over the past weekend I worked on Jeff Goins 10 Steps to Finding Your Writing Voice. The first step suggests writing adjectives that describe me as a person. I came up with three as he recommends and free wrote about them.
- Perceptive: I work as a coach and counselor and notice patterns in human behavior other people do not. This has become second nature for me. Many folks over the course of my career say, “you should have been a profiler.” I pick up on nonverbal tells people reveal that often prove true. I notice mild changes in the way a person breathes, where he looks when talking, shifts in her energy, and predict future behavior that is often correct.
- Witty: While I don’t expect to pursue a life as a stand-up comic, I often say things where laughter ensues. A quick sense of humor runs in my family. My mind races to humor as a defense mechanism, and it comes in handy with clients, especially during a crisis.
- Audacious: I speak my mind — with more restraint as I have aged — and often question the Status quo. If the line at the grocery gets 6 customers deep, I am the first to ask if another lane is available.
Are these qualities reflected in my characters?
In next part of this exercise Jeff Goins suggests to ask myself, is this how I talk and behave? The answer is yes I believe I do.
Then I explored characters I have created in fiction and how these traits show up in them. I figure if they do, I am writing from an honest perspective, and with work the rest will emerge. My short stories need considerable polishing to come together in a richer and more cohesive fashion.
I discovered both my protagonists and antagonists possess varying attributes of perception, wit, and audacity. In one story titled Teddy Got a Gun the protagonist is attempting to rescue his dog. He is a young adult with special needs who has a facial deformity. Qualities he displays include tenacity, he boldly steals a gun from a car at a funeral, and he can laugh at himself.
The antagonist in this same story is a street smart kid about 12–13 years old trying to gain acceptance into a gang. He is sarcastic, perceptive about the protagonist’s nature, and bold enough to kidnap a special needs person’s dog. In the excellent article on Why a Fully Realized Villain is as Important as Your Protagonist on the Pro-Writing Aid blog, having an adversary with depth is emphasized. This fuels richer conflict and illustrates gray areas in each character’s belief system and behavior that drives them forward.
I found similar patterns in my other stories that still need a good deal of work — but show promise. I also examined the posts I have written on Medium. While that work has a flavor of perception, wit, and audacity, these are not as evident in my nonfiction, but that’s a different approach to writing.
Jeff Goins also suggests looking at writer’s whose work I most enjoy. Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Bradbury are the 3 I read the most as a teen and young adult. Two of my all time favorite novels are The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. In terms of short stories I love the work of Flannery O’Connor, O’Henry, and Kirk Vonnegut. Among contemporary authors the short stories of Kyle Minor and Neil Gaiman, and the fiction and nonfiction of Dave Eggers are among my favorites.
My hope in writing fiction is to take the reader into a compelling experience with memorable characters engaged in conflict that may not be entirely resolved. But, like life unfolds in twists and turns as opposed to a linear fashion. I also realized I need to write the story in a succinct manner and not become obsessed about word count, etc. My mantra is to develop the characters through their struggle with the conflict and stay honest. I have a long journey ahead, I look forward to it with excitement and passion.