This past Thursday’s StoryDam chat covered voice. It’s one of those topics that never really gets old because everyone’s definition is different. I know I covered this topic in one of my A to Z Challenge posts this year. But there was something that I didn’t really think about until recently.
There are many elements that go into a writer’s voice: characterization, plot, dialogue, tone, theme. All these elements most people know. But there was one element I never thought about before until a writer mentioned it: life experience.
Life experience. It’s one of those aspects that define who we are. In writing, I believe it’s what ties all the elements of voice together. Most of our stories are ripped from significant moments of our lives. The characters we create, the dialogue that moves the story, the themes that resonate. It makes sense. I think that’s why the phrase “write what you know” carries so much weight.
Now depending on the writer, life experience can be a supply a never ending well of creativity. For others, not so much. I fell into the category of “other.” For the most part, my life wasn’t that adventurous. I thought of myself as “the good kid.” I did what my parents said. I got good grades in school. I hung around other “good kids.” I graduated from college. Got married. Had two kids. You know, typical stuff. Now, I had some rough patches off and on. Who didn’t? But I wouldn’t consider them mold for stories.
I think I lived a shielded life. Not much to where I can write a book or something. And I think my characters and theme resonate that “lack of experience.” And that’s why I hate the phrase, “Write what you know.” Because apparently, I don’t know much about anything.
But then, someone made this point: “Life experience isn’t always about what you’ve done, but also what you’ve observed.” I hadn’t thought of that before. And looking back at over thirty years of working, moving, renting, marriage, and kids, I realized there was more to my life than I realized. I’ve seen love, death, divorce, miracles, the unusual, everything. In my life as well as others. Thinking about all those “experiences” got me thinking about some truths in writing. One, only I can tell my version of a similar story. Two, I can create characters similar and different from me based on said experience. (Most writers say to create characters that are nothing like you.) And three, it’s pointless to compare my writing journey to someone else’s. No two journeys are exactly the same.
I still struggle with finding my voice. But I used to think that I didn’t have a life worthy of writing, I would never find it. It was one of many reasons why I wanted to give up on it. But after this chat session, I realized there was more to life than what I did; it was what I observed about the world around me.