Jason E. Fort
Which Voice Do I Use?
I just got back from a fun and informative writer's conference in Nashville, and one of the things a lot of the sessions focused on was author's voice. This rang familiar bells to my ears - because voice has been a large part of who I am in many ways throughout my life. I thought I'd take a moment to share, and reflect, and maybe by the end of this post, I will have an epiphany of which voice to use in my work.
From the time I was able to talk, I've had a strong voice. It's like once I knew how to form words, I couldn't stop talking; my parents even called me Motor Mouth when I was a little boy. I remember being called that at a very young age. But I talked and talked and talked. I remember sitting in my bedroom on the bed at night, before either one of my brothers were born, and talking...to myself, to God, to anyone who would listen. Finding a voice back then was easy.
As I got a little older, I began to sing. Apparently I had a good singing voice as a young child, because my parents and all their friends always asked me to sing. I remember standing out in my backyard or sitting on my swing set, and making up songs. I would sing about anything, and I would create my own little melodies. This became helpful later in the children's choir at church. When I was four years old, I sang 'Away in a Manger' in front of the whole church at the Christmas program. I can still remember standing up to sing at the pulpit, and moving my little index finger in time with the piano to make sure I sang at the right tempo. I know some people don't remember things like that, that young - but I remember it like it was yesterday. I think it's safe to say, my voice got an early start.
Then there's the voice of doubt I learned a little later in school. I remember using that voice several times in school when I encountered things I did not understand well. I remember this voice rearing its weak presence not just aloud to my parents or teachers, but on the sports fields and floors, too. I remember when I was shorter and much weaker as a small kid, and I doubted I'd ever be able to make a basketball all the way up to that ten foot goal! I remember telling my friends in high school with that same voice of doubt that I didn't think I'd be able to pick that weight up off my chest. I remember telling my mom that I didn't think this girl or that girl would ever like me. To this day, that voice of doubt occasionally makes itself known. My wife has heard it when I've been frustrated with certain writing goals of mine, and when I received rejection letters or e-mails from literary agents early in the game of writing. She always tells me in those moments of weakness that I underestimate myself sometimes. Every now and then she can force that doubtful voice right back into hiding; she is supportive like that.
As I matured, my singing voice matured as well. I sang in elementary school in the chorus, and I was able to sing up on stage with some folk singer who came to visit the school. I sang in the college choir, The Choraleers we were called. I took voice lessons then, and I remember when I was working on a certain solo for a recital, my voice teacher told me I had a way more powerful voice deep inside that was aching to get out. I'll never forget the look on his face when it seemed I finally found that large voice. He was laughing, and smiling, and nodding, and pumping his fists the whole time. I wasn't quite able to belt it out like that come time for the recital because of bronchitis, but thanks to my pal Raymond and some Goldschlager, I was still able to sing...good times. But the singing voice helped me for a while. I was able to form great relationships and even got to sing to accompaniment by friends who played the piano. Heck, I even sang in my buddy Raymond's wedding down the road...thankfully no Goldschlager was needed that time.
Then there's the 'Last Call' voice...the voice that can cause a whole large waiting room or bar to pause in a brief moment of silence. I'm not sure where I first discovered this voice. Maybe it was from being a college cheer leader and shouting through a megaphone at basketball games. Maybe it was when I had to yell at a drunk friend since I was always the sober one in college, and one of my friends for some reason wanted to pummel another drunk friend of theirs, but I wouldn't let it happen. Not sure where it started...but it's effective. I will never forget one day when I was responding to a call with my night shift partner, and we walked into the front of the ER. I hadn't heard the last detail of the call from the dispatcher, and when we arrived, the waiting room was pretty loud. I saw one potential altercation (but I was wrong), and since it was so loud in the ER, I shouted over the noise in the direction of a certain party of people. Next thing I know, the entire waiting room fell to a hush, and my partner goes, "Great, Jason - now we don't know who the problem is!" Did I mention that this voice has gotten me in trouble before?
And finally there is my voice of reason. My voice I actually know is there because there were plenty of times as a bouncer where I could have probably gotten my butt kicked, but because I kept a cooler head for once, I was able to talk one behemoth or another out the door. Granted, there were other times where I used the other voice to make someone think twice before coming back at me, but I knew who I could get away with doing that to, and who I couldn't. I actually remember a time when I was in ninth grade, and for whatever reason my Spanish teacher told me she could see me being a diplomat when I grew up, or keeping the peace somehow by talking to people. Funny how I ended up going into law enforcement after a few career stops along the way. But there were times in school where I had to talk some people into getting along with one another instead of fighting. Did they always listen? No - but so it goes with testosterone and egos and guys who drink to party. They are lucky I was around, though.
So this brings me back to my author voice in my novels. Which voice do I want the character I try to pattern after myself to have? John Knox - now there's a character for ya. When I think about all the different incidents and adventures and controversy that befall the Alabama native, I guess he could have any combination of the voices I've developed over the years. Yes, I know an author's voice is more figurative, but figuratively speaking, maybe I want John Knox to come across to readers as the peace keeper...or the law man...or the doubter...or...the singer? Ha - I will see what I can do.
I want to know some readers' opinions. How would you describe the voice conveyed in The Knox Mission novels, or Tracking Game. Please Comment, and I promise to reply.