“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment
before starting to improve the world.”
Reading these lovely words made me think of the beautiful Anne, since today, June 12, is her birthday. This led me to The Diary of A Young Girl. Open to any page, and Anne’s voice leaps out at you: funny, fresh, passionate, real. Anne was fierce in her likes and dislikes, from first to last. Consider how she describes two of her schoolmates:
“Jacqueline van Maarsan is supposedly my best friend, but I’ve never had a real friend. At first I thought Jacque would be one, but I was badly mistaken… J.R. — I could write a whole book about her. J. is a detestable, sneaky, stuck-up, two-faced gossip who thinks she’s so grown up. She’s really got Jacque under her spell, and that’s a shame.”
How alive Anne is! How we can almost see her in her classroom, fuming about the “sneaky, stuck-up” J.R. and her “two-faced” ways. In a few strokes, like Rembrandt, she paints us a picture — not just of her friends, but of herself as well. What marvelous writing! Anne made me think of other narrators who tell their own tales: Holden in Catcher in the Rye, for instance, and Pip in Great Expectations.
Thinking about all these personalities, real and imagined, made me ponder once again that mystical writing quality called “voice.” It’s so elusive and yet so emphatic and energetic. As readers, we respond to it instantly, embracing characters who’ve been conjured up as if we might meet them tomorrow on our doorstep. But as writers, finding that pitch-perfect voice can be so challenging!
I recently heard Madeleine Miller, the author of Circe talk about writing her best-selling novel. One of her comments about penning this wonderful book really caught my attention: During her interview, she said that it took her five years to find Circe’s voice. Five years!
Of course, finding your voice through a character in the first person is one thing and finding it as a narrator recounting a story in the third person is quite another, but in the end, it all comes down to one thing: believability. Even an unreliable narrator can be made believable in his/her unreliability in the hands of a skilled writer.
How amazing all this is: How we conjure up whole lives with a handful of words. Write on!
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