And at this sound [the descent of the Holy Spirit] the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
— Acts 2:6
Find your voice. Every writer has her own.
Find your story. My story is mine. Yours is yours.
The Holy Spirit speaks universally, but He does so to each of us in our own language. Let me take a liberty with Scripture and expand the definition of language to include temperament, family of origin, culture, and life experiences. The Holy Spirit speaks His universal Truth to each of us within the context of our individual personhood. He speaks my language.
I’m a firm believer that writing is a charism of the Holy Spirit. Given this, the idea of finding our voice is, in some sense, speaking in our language. I cannot write the books Cormac McCarthy wrote, because I’m not Cormac McCarthy. His voice is not mine; his stories are not mine.
This matters for the reader as much as it does for the writer. After all, what good is it to speak in tongues without someone to interpret? When a story resonates, it’s because something in that story speaks to my individual experience as much as it speaks to some universal truth. I “get” it. We are kindred spirits. I could even say that we share a charism in the same way the Franciscans or the Dominicans share a charism. We’re speaking each other’s language.
In this light, I suppose I shouldn’t worry about whether or not I’m writing a “good” novel. All that matters is that I’m speaking my language. My Holy Spirit language.
Image credit: Detail from the Corsini Triptych by Fra Angelico (Wikimedia Commons)
Your approach to editing is quite striking. Your characters have this very composed manner, but what adds a dose of realism is that you often cut into a scene late and cut out early — so that the conversations are often in medias res, and we get the sense that we really have walked in on life proceeding, like we’re catching a documentary glimpse of it.
Absolutely. It makes things much more interesting if the audience has to fill in some of the blanks. It keeps them on their toes. You get a lot of grief from development people about this: “Well, people won’t understand what’s happening in the scene.” But if you found some way to explain it at the beginning of the scene, then the rest of the scene would be completely boring. Nunnally Johnson, the screenwriter and later producer, would say that the most boring lady at a party is the one who tells you everything. Don’t tell people everything; let them figure it out.
Movie poster of Love and Friendship via Wikipedia.