On Writing: Voice and Theme

To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard. —Allen Ginsberg, WD


Some amateur writers launch into writing with a purpose, the determination to be heard by sharing their knowledge with the world and hoping to impart their ‘wisdom’ through their works. This might be fine when writing non-fiction, although it could border on preaching. As a writer, you might sometimes feel you are full of ideas that you need to share and want to share, so you try to cram everything you have to say about just about every topic under the sun into your writing. This results in several problems, the first being that the writer’s personality projects onto everything written and the whole tone of the work, including the characters, take on the writer’s personality. This eventually becomes boring and leads to bad writing because there is no distinction between characters, nor between the characters and the narrator, nor the works and the author, especially if the author has more than one work. One of the most difficult things to do, as a writer, is to achieve distance between you and your work, so that your work becomes an entity that is not you, the writer. One way to solve this problem is to learn to focus. Each piece of writing you create should focus on a single theme if it is a short piece, or a very limited selection of related themes for longer pieces. The less themes you include in your work, the more focused it becomes; limiting yourself to one theme automatically gives your work unity of theme. Many times, in fact, it is better to write a work of fiction without thinking of a theme first, because the actions and choices of your characters will carry the theme and neither you, as a writer, nor your narrator, will need to worry about sending any message at all. In many great works, the protagonist often personifies the theme or message the author wants to convey, and it is the protagonist whose words, actions, and thoughts say whatever it is the author wants said. The ability to do that creates a voice, the author does not need to explain any further.

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