Yesterday, I had a commentator who was confused about Voice
and Self-Expression in Creative Writing. I remembered that just because some things are clear to me as water (clean water, that is), because I’ve been eating, sleeping and giving birth to Creative Writing for so long, doesn’t mean all is as easy to understand to everyone else. Sometimes miss-communication happens in the words we are using to define each concept.
” Writing fiction has nothing to do with self expression – in fact work which still has the author’s footprints tracked across it is usually bad work, I find. “
The subject of self-expression my reader brought up is in fact a great topic open for discussion, thus leading to a great subject matter for this blog. So thanks, Martin. (Great website BTW, check it out.)
Lets Start with the Basics
Definitions of self-expression:
Expression of one’s own personality, feelings, or ideas through speech or art.
[in Art and Literature]
The expression of one’s individuality through creative activities.
Q: So how can we self-express without making it about us?
Self-Expression through Voice
Creative Writing is a very powerful tool for self-observation and inner grow. It’s through self-observation that you will find your Voice as a writer. The more you mature as an individual, the more we’ll want to read your novel, because you’ll have carved in it, often indirectly, your insights and wisdom.
That’s the Voice I speak of when I write about your writing Voice. It’s the Voice the reader hears in his head while he reads your novel; it’s not so much about the mindset of the narrator or protagonist (or both), but the clarity behind the sum of all words. It’s the way you could recognise the writings of your favourite author in a book wide open, even without turning it to read the name on the cover.
Although we all have a writing Voice, only good, accomplished writers reach this clarity. George Gurdjieff wrote about it leading to the mind’s maturation, which is reached through self-observation.
” Self-observation brings man to the realization of the necessity of self-change. And in observing himself a man notices that self-observation itself brings about certain changes in his inner processes. He begins to understand that self-observation is an instrument of self-change, a means of awakening.”
Self-Expression through Imagination
This doesn’t mean you are writing about yourself. (Unless your novel is a Memoir.)
As you write fiction, you are observing yourself in the shoes of different characters, thus exploring how it would feel like to live different lives and defend other’s beliefs. However, don’t think for a minute that you can remove yourself completely from the equation because the villain is a serial killer and you’d never murder anyone in your life, ever.
Imagination is the part of the human being that belongs completely to one self. It cannot be borrowed or added in artificially, like a mechanical arm or leg. No one can detach it from his own brain and lend it over to another human being who was unfortunate to be born without a single creative cell in his body.
And now you’d say: but we can teach someone to be imaginative! Maybe. But that person will be pulling from his own experiences and feelings to start with.
Imagination happens when you take what you already know and transform it into something else. That’s why this essay’s title states that creative writing is self-expression but not necessarily writing about one self. If you are creating good writing, you are feeding your story through self-expression, always. Little bits and pieces of you. Your imprint, if you’d like.
You may not have one criminal bone in your body, but you know how it feels to hate, to feel pain, frustration, or even be bitter to someone. Yes, you can should research about the psychosis of a serial killer if your story has one, but in the end you still have to imagine how it must be like living in his shoes. You’ll do that by fleshing out the feelings you had when you where being negative or cruel, yourself.
Your cruellest thoughts may have been innocent, but they were never meaningless.
So you were a jerk for a good reason. But you still lied to get that promotion, when your colleague did all the hard work. Or you fantasized about nailing your neighbour’s hot-sexy partner, and, just for fun, you imagined how you’d kill the nagging neighbour and leave his fat, ugly body in the gutter to rot. Or you felt a sudden urge to slap that horrible-hysterical child and leave your five, beautiful, nail-polished, long fingers, carved skin-red across its little, drooling face.
(Yeah, I guess I have a big imagination…)
Even when it’s all in your head and you’d never act upon those feelings, it’s the raw material you’ll have to add in and shape a believable evil character. [ If you are indeed a saint hidden inside a human’s body, don’t write from the point-of-view of the serial killer.] And the thing about Voice is, my evil serial killer will never sound like yours. Even if we follow the same synopsis, have a list of all scenes to be added in, action-per-action: Voice is unique.
Self-Expression is the Message
If you are not self-expressing through your novel, you are not communicating anything worth reading. Your characters are nothing but pieces of paper, one-dimensional, predictable and boring. In the end of every great novel, the protagonist has learned something or suffered some kind of transformation and that’s what satisfies the reader. You are conveying a message worthy of all the hours we spent reading your 30-plus chapters, only when you believe in it as well; if it came from your inner self — thus, self-expression.
” Self-expression must pass into communication for its fulfillment.”
Pearl S. Buck