Our gratitude to Master Cat! Anne Lower, who has outdone herself (a difficult feat) with this brilliant, writerly, and soulful advice:
A couple of weeks ago, I was meeting with an executive to discuss my scripts. He ordered up one in particular, not because he was interested in considering it for a purchase or for option, but because, as he explained, he wanted to hear my voice.
Voice is often one of the last things that we, as screenwriters, pay attention to during our journey towards completion, and yet, voice is by far the most singular element of your script that can elevate it above the others; its stamp has the ability to make your story unique.
Structure is universal. There are no original stories; however, there are new ways in which to tell your story — and that is where voice is crucial. Let’s take a look at a current release: the most fetching comedy, Midnight in Paris by Woody Allen.
Can you see it? Paris, the city of light; Gil, in the street, as he waits for the clock to toll midnight, the car to appear and to whisk him away to the company of the Fitzgeralds, Cole Porter, and, of course, Papa Hemingway.
Can you hear the truth of the film? Wilson as Allen’s doppleganger? The charming quality of the script? The delight of it all?
Now, close your eyes. Imagine this script — same story beats, same actors — told by one of the following:
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
The Coen Brothers
What is the difference between each of these masterful writers? What is it that makes them unique? Their voice. And, using their authentic voices, each one of these writers would execute a completely different script. The story would be the same, but the way that it would be told, those little moments, the dialogue, the lines of action – each would be unique to its author. This is an example of how much influence voice has on story, and why it is crucial for you to discover your authentic voice, and let it sing.
How does one find his or her own voice? Ah, the million dollar question. I wish that I had an easy answer for you… but I do not.
Write. Write as much as you can, and then write more. Look at your bookshelves — what type of fiction do you surround yourself with? Let’s look at my shelf: Mark Twain, Shirley Jackson, Sue Monk Kidd, Shakespeare, Rilla Askew, Isak Dinesin, Walt Whitman, Anton Chekov, Horton Foote, Blake Bailey, Daphne du Maurier, Stephen King, Lewis Carroll, Anais Nin, Patricia Cornwell, Nora Ephron, Steve Martin, E.M. Forster, and a few others.
I think that it would be safe to surmise that my authentic voice lies in a more literary form of screenwriting; that I value character over plot, and am most interested in what happens to ordinary men and women when they are thrown into extraordinary circumstances.
So, I would be more prone to be in my comfort zone writing character-driven drama, dramedy, or comedy; my horror of choice would tend to be more super or preternatural than torture/slasher or creature horror; if I were to write thrillers, they would be female based, and I would write more rural than urban settings.
And, as I muse over the above, I find myself nodding in agreement over what I just typed. This list of targets that I have just generated for myself can help me to choose my next project — and to build it in a commercially appealing form.
I’ll share a little secret with you: I recently rediscovered my authentic voice, and, now that I have found it, I cannot imagine writing without it. I had written without it; I did this for over a year and a half before I realized what a miserable experience this had been. I felt disconnected from my true self. I did not know who Anne was or where she had gone… nor did I know if I would ever find her again. I felt a pretender, a sham. I was the (wo)man hiding behind the curtain, just praying that Toto wouldn’t pull it back.
I felt alone in the dark. I was terrified.
In the midst of this agony, I returned to a rewrite, and began from page one, and three months later… through the completion of this script — now going to market — I have rediscovered my voice. It’s here. Intact and stronger than ever. I’ll never write without it again.
I pledge to take care of my voice, to nurture it, for it is the only one that I have.
I pledge to listen to my voice — for it is my muse.
I pledge to not abandon my voice.
I pledge to protect my voice against the shoutings of others.
I pledge to exercise my voice, to permit it to grow.
And, most important… I pledge to trust my voice implicitly. I pledge to surrender myself to it, to embrace it with abandon, for when I do, my script sings to the gods, for my voice is true.
Does your voice change? Yes, it does. It changes as you change; it deepens and becomes more resonant as you journey through your life. It is affected by events, by grief and by joy, by maturity and by wisdom.
As long as you take care of it, as long as you do not abandon it, it will be there for you. It’s yours.
So, all of you writers out there. What is your voice? How will you develop it? What is your pledge?