Sunday, February 10, 2008

Finding a voice

I was at a good amateur production of Abigail's Party last night. The acting all round was pretty decent and the pace was good: there are some moments in the play which rely on long, uncomfortable silences, and I guess, as an actor, full of nerves, it must be terribly tempting to rush the moment and lose the impact. They avoided this well.

One thing that struck me was the main character, Beverly. Because we know the Alison Steadman version so well it must be horribly difficult to do that role. She was truly extraordinary, she took over that character, made her live. How do you follow that? You don't. But, for all actors doing that role, it must be very hard not to - unintentionally - end up mimicking Alison Steadman. Her performance was so searing it is surely not impossible for some of it to seep into your interpretation of it. And so, last night, I could definitely see some of Alison Steadman on the stage, as well as Beverly.

This is a problem writers face, too: the unconscious mimicry of your favourite authors. I found, when I started writing, that virtually everything was in the voice of Oscar from The Tin Drum. Style, voice, even plot can be unconsciously carried into your own writing. It's not deliberate, it's not dishonest, it's just the inevitable leaching of your influences into your words.

But, unlike actors taking on a role made famous by someone else, there is something writers can do about it. Be brave. Be different. Find your own bloody voice, say what you want to say, not what Gunther Grass wanted to say.

What it comes down to is subject matter. Why are you a writer? Why are you writing what you write? What are you trying to say? Until you have even a vague idea of this, why are you bothering?

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