“The first thing you notice upon meeting him is that voice, slow and oddly musical, immediately recognizable…”
Robert Ito interview with Nicolas Cage
“It’s something I worked at. I grew up listening to my favorite actors, and they all had unique voices. James Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney. And when I started acting, I did not have a good voice, so I had to actively experiment with it and see if I could find rhythms in it, or break it up, or mess with it in some way.”
Voice — it’s as important to an actor as it is to us as writers. To me, Nicolas’s comment about how he created a new, distinctive voice for himself as an aspiring actor is very inspiring on several fronts.
First, it struck me that a distinctive voice seems as if it should be part of the DNA package for an actor — and yet in this case, it wasn’t. Nicolas wasn’t born with a memorable voice — he had to train himself into one. He had to experiment and practice, discard approaches that didn’t work, and finally come up with something that had a unique quality to it. And this is exactly what we need to do to find a unique voice in our writing. Even writers whose distinctive voices we admire had to do exactly the same thing. No one’s born with a distinctive writing voice — it’s created through trial and error. Good news for us all!
Second, actors are often big on process and I love the way Nicolas described the strategy he used to craft a distinctive voice for himself: 1) he actively experimented — he intentionally played around, using trial and error; 2) he explored his limited range to see what rhythms he could find in it; 3) he went to the opposite extreme and experimented with “break it up;” and 4) he was willing to “mess with it,” to be disruptive in order to come up with something that worked. All of this strikes me as very similar to the experimental, playful, messy approach that goes into creating a distinctive writing voice.
So let’s borrow a leaf from a talented actor, mess about, and write on!