Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Finding Voice: Your Ultimate Superpower

Okay. I’m finally going to share a secret with the world, something I’ve never actually told a soul. Ready?

I have...a super power.

No really. It's true. So stop laughing or doing that head bobbing thing with one corner of your lips pinched, as though I'm fruity and out of my mind. Noooo, I can’t fly—though that would totally rock—I can’t see dead people or scale tall buildings, and worst of all, I can’t “Wonder Twin Powers. ACTIVATE!!!” with anyone, but what I CAN do, is remember people to a freakish degree. I never forget people. I call it Social Photographic Memory, though that’s not quite what it is. I remember people I meet, but beyond that, I can remember events, blocks of conversations and things people tell me about themselves, especially if they’re unique. It’s all about people. I can’t find my misplaced debit card, historical junk in my brain or any mathematical solutions beyond Pre-Algebra. I CAN call up my Bio notes from college, but that’s only because I turned Dr. Spohn’s notes into song lyrics. Such things, most of which don’t benefit me at all to know, I will remember until the End of Days or unless Alzheimer’s or amnesia take my mind.
One reason I have vivid recall is my piqued senses intertwine with images, people, objects and events, turning them into lasting memories, infusing them into my brain. I remember not just things from when I was five, I remember BEING five. And not just events, but emotions I felt, smells in the room, tastes, textures, etc.
For instance, they're gone now, but my grandfather’s name was James and my grandmother referred to him as Jimmer. She was the ONLY one who ever called him that. And she always did. Never James or Jim, just Jimmer. I wasn’t even two, and I remember the first time I called him Grandpa Jimmer. Everyone in the kitchen, my aunt, my uncles, my parents, cracked up, bowling over and everything. I remember this wonderful feeling, a sense of pride and accomplishment, for making people laugh.

Another reason why I have Social Photographic Memory—and this is my secret part—is because every person I come across gives me a…hmm…a sensory impression I’ll call it, that is unique to them. In the split second I see someone, and every time, I detect this texture in a person’s soul that triggers an instant yet momentary emotional response. Some are dull, others vibrant. It can be linked to personality, interests, what a person's going through at the time I first see or meet them or how they’ll make me feel in the future.

Whenever my husband walks into the room, I get a peace that's so soft, like a dryer-fresh towel, all smelling nice and feeling warm. My best friend from college = a teddy-bear warmth. Another friend = a zippy jolt. She loves to travel and is always on the go.

Some guy who's guarded can be reminiscent of a stone wall or an onion, and even after I demolish the blockade or peel all the layers, he'll forever and always give me that same evanescent impression. I can instantly know some strange lady loves cats even if she’s not wearing a shirt proclaiming it because her impression is tied up with cats. Totally creepy I know—I get freaked out all the time when I gather enough info for the impression to make sense—but I'm hoping I can someday lend my super power to a character when that perfect plot match enters my brain. I've never heard of anyone else, fictional or not, possessing my offbeat...whatever-it-is...oh, super power, right.

You want your writing to be as distinctive as the sensory impressions people give me. It needs to stand out in a crowd, be unforgettable and expose the deepest parts of your soul. And this beautiful power you possess to make your mark is called voice. Writing voice is as individualized as, well, voice. Every person has their own way of speaking. Even identical twins have differences, revealing their inner selves through attitude, emotion, diction, pacing, tone, word choice.

When you write, your basic speaking voice should be emerging and spilling onto the pages, not Hemingway’s or John Grisham’s or your mom’s. Not that you should write exactly as you think or talk because you could be narrating from an evil POV or a sarcastic or unreliable one, or maybe you curse more than a work can stand. But your prose should contain your uniqueness and also be appropriate for your audience. Tell your story, poem or novel in the way only you can tell it. Voice is what I'm using to write this blog. It exposes so much about me, even if I never mentioned one personal thing. That's why writing on the whole feels so soul-baring. It is. It was pretty scary to hand my work over and have people read and critique it, but I took the bold step and just did it so I could improve.

Here are some things you can do to make sure your voice comes through in your writing.

Relax and just write. Don’t concentrate too hard because it will stifle your voice. Just be free and go.

Broaden your vocabulary. Learning new words all the time will give you a bigger reserve to draw from so your voice doesn’t become stale, so you’re not always falling back on the same crutch words and phrases.

Know the basic writing pitfalls to avoid like misplaced modifiers, too many adverbs, adjectives, etc., so those glitches don’t muck up your prose.

Break out of the clutches of cliché and search inside for some originality and zest.

If grammar’s a weak point for you, get Elements of Style or a book like it to have handy when you hit a bump or have a question.

Every voice has rhythm. Find your ebb and flow and boogie with it.

Have confidence. Trust in your ability to tell the story.

If your voice is eluding you or not sounding quite like the real you, shut out all outside influences so they don’t become infused in your work.

Experiment with different voices, like an array of hats. Obviously from my blog, you can tell I look for the humor that’s all around me and don’t take certain things too seriously. But, I do take my writing seriously. And I use different voices for different mediums and audiences.

Do writing exercises like free writing, random word stories or poems or write first thing in the morning. Work specifically at discovering voice.

Use your emotion.

Write with authenticity and integrity. Be true to yourself. Don't mimic.

Don’t puff up your work or make it loftier than it should be.

Say aloud what you want to write before putting it down and see if it sounds like your true self. You can use a tape recorder for assistance. Or write it first and then read it aloud. Check for continuity and ask yourself if it sounds like you.

Think positively. Published or not, consider yourself a true writer, seizing your passion, honing your craft, living your dream.

Voice can’t be enhanced, borrowed, copied or sharpened; it must be found. It is your ultimate super power, your best tool to reel readers in and turn them into fans. Make a lasting impression, and you can only do that when you tap into that inner you and reveal that to readers. When you find your true voice, your writing will sparkle and be a wonderful reflection of you. Then you'll be able to turn your voice into a brand. You can do it. Let the quest begin.

[Oh. And keep my secret on the down low. Thanks. I don't want the masses hounding me to find out what impressions I get. Sometimes words can't adequately describe anyway.]
~Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

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