Thursday, June 13, 2013

#6 Critique Partner Series - Author's Voice

I am in no way a professional.  I don't have a fancy education to back up writing (that is reserved for mathematics), but I do know what I like to read and I do know when I read something that doesn't quite jive for me.  So WELCOME to my CRITIQUE PARTNER SERIES!  It is minus the partner, because I don't actually know any of the writers whose work I am reading, but here I will offer my advice.  Much of my advice you can find everywhere else on the internet.  None of it is professional.  All of it is...I can't think of anything to finish this sentence with.  I liked the whole "Much of it, none of it, all of it" thing I had going on at the start of each sentence, but I'm far too lazy to spend time thinking how to end that sentence, especially when this is only a blog developed for my personal enjoyment.  Tally ho!

#6 Critique Partner Series – Author’s Voice

Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags.  It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex (Charlotte Brontë in Jane Eyre, Chapter XII).

Why you may ask—or maybe you don’t—do I begin this week’s post with a quote from Jane Eyre?  Those who know me also know this is my favorite novel.  They know I have read it nine times and that throughout high school and college I continuously chose to write papers on it.  And those who know me even better, they know I incorporated a passage of it into my wedding vows.   But as much as I love Jane Eyre, I do not love this passage.

Wait!  Before you shoot me and claim all sorts of feminist claims, and before you hate me forever, listen!  It’s not that I don’t like the message.  It’s a very fine message.  Power to women and all that.**  What I don’t like is that this passage is about Brontë and not about Jane.  Think of where we are in the story:  Jane has just entered Thornfield.  She barely knows Mr. Rochester.  She’s seen so little of life.  In fact, Jane is just too naïve at this point in the novel to be this angry.  Brontë breaks into Jane’s character.  She has a message for her readers, and she uses Jane as the podium to relay that message.

It’s going to happen.  As writers, we pour so much of ourselves into each page that, eventually, part of ourselves seeps into our characters as well.  The trick is to make certain when we do it, we do it true to the character.  I know, I know.  It’s presumptuous of me to speak of Literature (with a capital L) in this way, but if Brontë had just waited until after Jane spent some time with St. John—enough that Jane could get good and suppressed—I’d say, “Go ahead!  Preach away, sister!”  It wouldn’t stand out to me as Brontë’s words.  I wouldn’t feel as if I’d been swindled into reading propaganda.

Be aware of your own voice when you write.  If you have a message, go ahead and write it, but only write it if your character is ready for it.  Only write it if it fits in with what your character thinks.  If you don’t, readers (I) will humph and think thoughts like, “Does Brianna really feel this way about the rebel attacks in Alpha Centauri, or is that how you feel?”

**I admit one of my papers was about how Jane needs a man in her life, only she needs one on her own terms.

My question for you:

How do you feel when you recognize the difference between a character’s thoughts and the author’s?  Does it matter to you?