Tag Archives: Voice

Ray Bradbury and the Enthusiasm that Becomes a Writer’s Voice

Yesterday I stumbled across a 22 minute interview with Ray Bradbury done by the National Endowment for the Arts’ “The Big Read” program.   It’s well worth watching.  There’s even a loud car purr to relax by 😀

But, watching this interview, I was struck by just how vivid and alive Bradbury is compared to some people I’ve met.  He’s refused to be mocked by the world into disguising, hiding, and getting rid of his enthusiasms, and it shows.

How many people do you know go to Paris to walk the streets while stopping to read TENDER IS THE NIGHT along the way?  It’s the actual physical act of getting out into the world and colliding with it that can generate so many new ideas.

Enthusiasms can also act as road signs of what to write about as a writer.   They can help a writer find his or her voice.  For example, a passion for astronomy could turn into a science fiction story or a literary novel about an astronomer.  And I’ve noticed how “catching” enthusiasm is.  I’m not into cars, but by watching the hosts of “Top Gear” on the BBC talk with passion about cars, I’ve caught some of their enthusiasm and am starting to pay attention to the cars and trucks I see daily.

Bradbury has priceless advice to give on finding one’s voice as a writer, both in ZEN AND THE ART OF WRITING and in this “The Big Read” interview.  Check them out.

Why as a Writer I Envy Painters, Musicians, Stage Actors, and Comedians

There are days as a fiction writer when I envy painters, musicians, comedians, stage actors, and the like.  It’s because I’ve found from experience that the feedback loop for them on whether a creation or technique is on the right track is much less murky.

When I create a painting, when I’m done I can step back and visually absorb my creation as a whole .  And if my ego is strong enough, I can haul it off to a local show of other artists to see how I’m doing skill-wise by visually paying attention to the paintings of the artists around me.  And I can pay attention to how viewers respond when they see my work.

As a comedian or musician, if I go to try out my latest stuff live at a local venue, I’m going to know very quickly if my piece isn’t working because if I’m awful there are going to be boos and maybe even beer cans headed in my direction.

With a fiction manuscript, it’s just a stack of paper with words on it.  I can make copies of it to give out with an evaluation sheet to readers, but the returned results are so much murkier than the instant feedback of clapping or boos.   And round-robin critique sessions (unless very VERY well-run) too often turn into group-think or focus on the wrong things because the manuscript is being evaluated by writers instead readers.

One can read aloud one’s manuscript to an audience, but how a piece of fiction reads aloud versus how it sounds in the mind versus how it looks to the eye are three separate things.  Reading aloud only covers one of the three.

And even when a fiction piece is posted online with a comments section, there’s still a buffer of words between writer and reader.

And as for writing contests, I find them rather weak for getting a full sense of how readers will respond to a work.  Keep in mind that most contests are judged by those in the book industry (writers, editors, critics, agents), not readers.  The criteria by which readers choose what they want to read is different.

Don’t believe me about contests?  Then go stand in the book section of the nearest Costco, Wal-Mart, Target, etc. and watch people as they walk through.  Not a bookstore–that’s a preselected audience of people who are into books.  Talk to people who have absolutely no desire to work in the book industry.  Talk to people who rarely read books at all.

What I’m getting at is that in fiction writing, there’s a lot more “noise” and “distance” to wade through in trying to evaluate the response of readers to one’s work.  The interaction between artist and audience in writing is at a distance, unlike the intimacy of a stage actor and audience.

I can see why fiction writing is often compared to writing a message to shove into bottle that is thrown in the sea.

Perhaps the difficulty (the distance & noise between writer and reader) comes about because, as John Gardner pointed out, the writer is trying to induce a dream-state in the reader.  The action is happening in the reader’s head as they read, not on a movie screen or on a stage, and so reactions are much much harder to pin down.

INCEPTION on the Art of Storytelling

For anyone who writes fiction, makes films, or designs video games, Director Christopher Nolan has a whole hidden layer about the art of storytelling in his new film INCEPTION for you.  And he’s succeeded in putting this conversation underneath the surface story of the film, so it’s there waiting for you while everyone else can enjoy the film without feeling like they’re trapped in a boring lecture on the artistic work involved in creating fictional worlds.

The heart of the story is about Cobb, the “dream architect” whose sabotaging subconscious has made it impossible for him build dreams anymore.  Replace “dream architect” with “filmmaker,” and one soon catches on to Nolan’s hidden conversation.

Dream architects have the same sort of problems filmmakers and writers have, such as:

–Creating believable fictional worlds that the dreamer/viewer/reader can get lost in.

–Getting the details right.

–Finding the right equipment and tools needed to build the dream.

–Putting together a story that the dreamer will get wrapped up in.

–Dealing with hostility in the dreamer.

–Having different genres of stories.

–Encountering dreamers who have abandoned real life for the dreams.

–Giving the dreamer catharsis.

–And most of all, having to deal as a “dream architect” with the subconscious crap in one’s own mind that comes to the surface to sabotage one’s ability to get one’s creative work done.

All of this made INCEPTION a movie where I found myself getting both  a great story to watch and at the same time an enjoyable secret chat about the art of storytelling.

Feeding the Muse by Going on Travel

I just came back from ten days of travel.  Due to the circumstances of the trip, I was unplugged from the internet for those ten days–no web surfing, no emails, no blogs.  I still had my cell phone, but only did texts or calls during a certain designated time period in the afternoon.

I was curious to see if I would notice anything different about how my mind worked, and how I would view my internet usage when I got back.    Was my usage having an impact on my creativity and ability to focus?

Very quickly, I found I didn’t miss the internet at all.  In fact it felt like a burden had been dumped off my back–I didn’t have to worry about getting back to emails, I blew off my blog, I didn’t waste time web surfing.  Instead I was out and about each day seeing places, meeting people, and reading books to relax in the evenings.

Two effects were noticeable within a few days–1) I found I could quickly plow through novels again (and so raced through Jane Austen’s EMMA and John D. MacDonald’s DRESS HER IN INDIGO), and 2) I found myself getting braincramps from all the story ideas that kept coming up due to the travel itself.

Travel can be a great way to get ideas for stories:  museums, historical places, cultural landmarks, art spots, local restaurants, national and state parks, long walks down the street, people sitting around chatting in hotels….

Keep a pen and notepad around during the trip.  Make an effort to see the places and people that make a location “different” from everywhere else.  By doing so, I’ve now got more ideas than I can deal with, even if I write non-stop for the next five years.

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Going forward, I’ll be posting on Wednesdays.  I’ll also be cutting back my email and web time, limiting it to evenings after a full day of work and writing.   So there’ll be a noticeable lag time in moderating comments.

Feeding the Muse by Doing Something Different

On the spur of the moment, I got involved with putting together for a relative a slide show of old 1940s photos that could be played on a DVD.   Had to do the project in a week’s time.

So I spent quite a few evenings scanning in photos, then editing them, then putting them together in a sequence that made sense, and then adding music that seemed fitting.   It was artistic work, playing around with visuals and music.

What I didn’t expect was getting flooded with story ideas to write.   Felt like I had “mindcramp.”

Also, I found that I came back to my writing with heightened sight and sound–i.e. able to visualize settings with vividness and new perspectives.   Somehow the work on the DVD had stimulated those parts of my brain.

So I now understand what Julia Cameron was talking about in her creativity books (like THE ARTIST’S WAY) about allowing yourself to do side projects in artistic fields that aren’t your “chosen” field.   For example, a painter doing acting and poetry to relax.   I’ll continue goofing around with iPhoto and iDVD to make stuff since I enjoyed them so much.

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After I post this, things will be quiet here for a bit.  I’m headed off on travel and will be checking in sporadically.  Next post Wed. Jun 16.