This post from Victoria Marie Lees on narrative voice in memoir made me think about my own foray into first-person nonfiction. "Writers need to think who is telling the story," Ms. Lees writes.
It's something I didn't think about much during my early drafts of Loner in the Garret. I thought a lot about what I was saying and what the reader might want, but not so much about how I
was saying it. One critiquer of this book said she wanted to see more
of my humor. She wanted me to commit more, not to hold back, not to be
so mild and diffident. To let my unique voice out.
hadn't occurred to me until I read her feedback--that the "I" who was
speaking in my nonfiction book was an important character, just as in
fiction. That a first-person narrator not only can, but probably should,
have a personality.*
Last fall, I took a memoir workshop taught by Beth Kephart.
At one point, we students exchanged our work with another person in the
class. We were only doing short in-class exercises, so we weren't
seeing much of one another's work--a couple of pages at most. And for
that reason, I thought the person who gave me feedback was mistaken when
her primary reaction to my writing was, "It's funny."
But then I thought about how I had re-drafted Loner in the Garret
to let in more irreverence, to express more of what amuses me about
writing and publishing (along with what frustrates, intimidates, and
elates--so much about this gig is absurd). I thought of how
people had told me that my YA novels, as dark as they can be at times,
were relieved by an edge of humor. I know my fellow workshopper didn't
mean that I was joke-a-minute hilarious, but she saw something in my
work that I have thought about cultivating more, ever since.
What are you still learning about your own voice?
reading nonfiction by writers with such memorable first-person voices
as Nora Ephron, David Sedaris, Dave Barry, Joan Didion, Anne Lamott,
Anne Fadiman, Richard Rodriguez, Sarah Vowell, etc., etc., this should
not have been a surprise. But hey, I can't always connect the dots
myself, which is why I need critiquers in the first place.