We all possess a voice that has been internalised. This probably happened a very long time ago and you can probably remember very clearly what those voices said to you.

You can’t do that; no one in our family has ever done that; you are so bad at completing things; you never stick to anything ; you need to work hard and put aside your dreams.’ The list is endless and I could fill this blog with this kind of commentary but I think you get the gist. In fact it’s one of the things that often gets discussed at the writing retreat.

However, we all, eventually, no matter how long it might take, come to develop our own voice but what the Russian critic and philosopher Bakhtin would suggest is these ‘authoritative discourses’ actually shape how we do speak both verbally and on the page.

I was listening to the radio yesterday and the writer Michael Bond (who created Paddington Bear) said that many of the characters’ traits in the books belonged to his parents and sometimes we fail to spot the influences from our formative years.  Of course sometimes they are glaringly obvious.

What we need to do when were are thinking about how we want to develop as a writer is understand and have an awareness of what discourses are sloshing around in your mind; they might be social, political, religious and it may well mean changing habits or simply understanding how they have made you.

I think about Francis Spufford’s book, ‘The child that books built’ and I guess this process is similar. We don’t have to reject those ideas, we can transform , borrow, tweak them allow them to metamorphose like proving dough!

Think of  novels which explore the concept of rebelling against an original culture or adapting to influences one comes across outside the confines of home. For example the character Stevens in Remains of the Day or Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior or even Arhundati Roy’s God of Small Things. The Buddha of Suburbia  by Hanif Kureshi  is another novel which uses original familial and cultural influence as a backdrop to new experiences that are prevalent in the suburbs of south London.

It’s such a n exciting area to explore and the more we focus on specific ideas the stronger they seem to become. How many thoughts are associated with our past? Think of smells, places, people, sounds, tastes as obvious examples.

So, with this in mind think about what the authoritative discourse might be. The possibilities are endless:  a spiritual leader, a parent, a family member, a teacher. For me the mother of my boyfriend has been a significant blueprint. Ponder what messages they handed to you and which you still carry. Then consider the effect they had, or maybe still have on you, then conjure up a fictional character that might well embody those ideas. Finding their voice and standpoint can be an interesting exercise. You might even think about what might have driven or prompted these individuals to behave in that way.
The writer and lecturer Celia Hunt suggests this kind of exercise can be developed further and  says:

Create another character, loosely based on yourself, who is under the influence of your first character. Now write three short scenes in the third person in which the two characters engage with each other. In the first scene, let one of the characters get the better of the other, reverse this In the second. In the third scene achieve a balance between them, so they have a more even dialogue. Try and allow your characters’ own words and tone of voice to sound through their narrative voice as well as through direct speech.’

If you want to explore more of Ceri Hunt’s ideas check the further reading suggestions below.

Until next time!

Further Reading

  • Bolton, Gillie The Therapeutic Potential of Creative Writing –  Jessica Kingsley 2000
  • Hunt, Celia Therapeutic Dimensions of Autobiography in Creative Writing – Jessica Kingsley
  • Hunt, Celia & Sampson Fiona Writing Self and Reflexivity  – Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Hunt, Celia & Sampson Fiona The Self on the Page: Theory and Practice of Creative Writing in Personal
  • Development – Jessica Kingsley 1998
  • Bakhtin Mikhail The Dialogic Imagination – University of Texas Press 1981
  • Lodge David Consciousness and the Novel -(Secker & Warburg 2002
  • Spufford Francis The Child That Books Built – Faber 2003
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