General Writing, Narrators, Voice

Lyrical voice / narrative voice / character’s voice: Hints from Turkish music, one actress, and the power of travel

I have been listening to Turkish music after my sojourn in Turkey, and because of its very specific kind of driving energy, I realize again that the energy of different musics is part of what we deal with as writers, that one of the crucial elements often left out when we are “taught” to write, is this element, OUR music. How do we write powerfully and effectively? Part of the answer is that we aim for writing that embodies and is driven by our way of using language, our specific music.

Actress Jessica Lange once said in an interview on The Actor’s Studio that she finds a specific music for each character she plays. This I found wonderfully helpful, since one of the things that I began to question in writing poetry was a too-consistent voice, that lyrical “I” that repeats itself too often. At a certain point, I wanted out. I was someone else. I knew more than “myself”, or more than a certain circumscribed self that wrote my poems at the time. And I realized that writing fiction was for me symphonic. An integration of the narrator’s voice, and all the characters’ voices, and the writer’s hum throughout.

I loved this. And I finally jumped into writing novels after some years of writing short stories. (Deep waters.)

But after a week and a half in the Czech Republic last month, mostly in Prague, the presence of the past, the unresolved and extant hatreds that live in that part of Europe, drove me back to poetry. And I realized that there was a certain pressure on my voice, a way that my voice was ghettoized and threatened, and I am barely speaking metaphorically. And zap, a poem a day last week.

This doesn’t mean that voice does not travel in space and time, it does. But that it may be a particular voice grappling with specific questions, noticing certain aspects of the world, and backed into a specific corner that pushes it to have a specific focus and tone, a tension, a way of holding and releasing the pressure on it.

So here’s some questions for both fiction writers and poets:

What backs your voice into a corner? What threatens your voice? Let yourself freewrite a rapid poem or monologue from that corner, responding directly or not so directly to that pressure and threat.

Fiction writers, do the same for your narrator, for your characters. Take your main character: what backs your main character into a corner? What threatens her or his ability to speak and be heard? Let that character speak to another; or write a letter to another; or enter a stream of thought, an internal monologue; responding directly or not so directly to that pressure and threat.

(Playing the music you have identified as related to your lyrical voice or to your character’s voice or your narrator’s voice-in the background as you write-may be of use!)

By the way, women writers coming to Skidmore for the annual conference of the International Women’s Writing Guild, I can’t wait to see you (!

Please check Alison Ross’s site, Clockwise Cat, a progressive literary magazine, at her editorial page. She discusses what she is looking for in submissions of poetry, fiction, art, and nonfiction. You’ll also notice an Orozco painting “Gods of the Modern World”, at the top, and a reference to a poem in my last book of poetry, The Stone of Language, towards the end of the editorial. In my next posting, I will mention a few things about that painting, which I saw in-person some time ago.

Send your comments and writings on this, or any questions about this post, or any other questions about the craft, concepts, and issues of writing, whether story or poem, fiction or nonfiction, to

2 thoughts on “Lyrical voice / narrative voice / character’s voice: Hints from Turkish music, one actress, and the power of travel”

  1. Love the suggestion to have character respond to a threat, especially verbally. We may have to be passive in life, but that doesn’t mean our characters have to be too.


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