Two months ago, my story, "Bend to Me" was workshopped by Brando Skyhorse and fellow workshop participants. The takeaway from that workshop was this: my writing was lacking "the definite inner voice".
Last evening, a second story of mine -- "Still Watching"** -- was workshopped and the takeaway is this: An inner voice is not enough; it must be an active inner voice. Following is Brando's assessment:
So you'll notice in this draft that my line edits are a lot more specific. Note the places I marked up because I feel sharpening these areas would prove an enormous benefit for your work overall and in getting your work in more literary magazines, etc.
We have two narrator's at work here. There's our sharp and precise active voice narrator (my hero!) that revels in giving us as much specifics as possible. That's the narrator we want on the page at all times. This narrator excels at giving us itineraries and lists of specific intimate details. This narrator gives us razor sharp dialogue and helps us see these scenes as clear as day.
Then there's the distant and passive voice narrator (Boo! Hiss!). This narrator appears whenever we switch over to the inner voice. Your instincts for when to use the inner voice are spot on. How you use your inner voice, though, isn't working because it's a.) almost always in passive voice and b.) almost always distances us from what you're describing. Couple these two things with a very formal word choice and we have a narrative voice that's literally shutting us out at the moments we need to be hearing from you the most.
The result is that we learn about this horrific incident [an alcoholic partner's suicide attempt] you were a part of but you are the most distant person on the page. I know almost nothing about your relationship with Susan, the aftermath of her suicide attempt, nor do we learn anything about how you were feeling during this suicide attempt. We do learn about your caretaker abilities and I see a lot of resentment rising off the page as you report your caretaking duties to us but that isn't the same as you sharing your thoughts and feelings about this event. How did you process this event? Have you processed it now? That's what's missing here. How did this event change you?
The most telling moment in this piece in on page 10 where you tell the state trooper that Susan's your partner then say you were "frightened by my embarrassment." Why? Why were you embarrassed and why were you frightened? It's not enough to answer this question on one line. You have to answer this question throughout this piece so that we don't feel like this is merely a litany of details about yet another "mess" you had to clean up. You're a survivor. SHOW me how you survived this. SHOW me on every page and in every moment when your inner voice appears. Get that inner voice closer, not further away. Don't have me guess at it.
Crack that, and the piece -- along with your writing -- will truly reveal itself.
I asked Brando to join me for a drink after class, and I confessed to him that I didn't know how to crack my inner voice. "I don't know how to make it more active," I said. "I'm intelligent, but I'm just not getting this."
"That's because your voice was taken away from you when you were a kid," he said. "You're getting closer, but it's going to take a lot of practice. Your inner voice is too far away."
He asked me if I had ever been in therapy, then said, "Silly question. Of course you have. You're still alive. But you have to crack this. No excuses. Struggling with depression is not an excuse. Thinking you're too old is not an excuse. No excuses. This is your job now. You are a survivor. We need to hear this story."
Beloveds: ANY tips? ANY tips at all about how I can crack my ACTIVE inner voice?
Here's a specific sentence from "Still Watching":
Desperate to make something, anything, less disturbed, I began to pick up empty beer cans and was startled by an imperious voice behind me.
Brando's specific comment to this sentence:
You lapse into distant/passive voice AGAIN when describing your actions and inner voice -- why?
[FYI -- Brando makes a comment similar to this one on EVERY page, sometimes two or three times.]
How do I make this specific sentence more active? Hand on heart, I have no idea.
** I will not be posting "Still Watching" here. If you would like to read the draft that was workshopped, please email me.