That Voice Inside Your Head

In one of my favorite movies, Wonder Boys, the main character Grady Trip (Michael Douglas) is a writer/professor who can't stop writing a book, and when his work in progress manuscript, well over 2,000 pages long, is finally read by one of his students (pre-Tom Cruise Katie Holmes) she tells him the manuscript is beautiful but reads like he never made any choices, the kind of choices a writer needs to make so as to not include everything under the sun but instead to get to the narrative point (my words, not hers). This indecisiveness is really the crux of Trip's problems in general and when he finally sees clearly enough to make solid choices, he finally finds a sort of peace (or so we are led to believe-I personally think the movie's ending, or solution, to his problems is a little simplistic and dull).

Wonder Boys aside, both life and writing are filled with choice making dilemmas. A writer sitting down to a fresh page faces such a multitude of decisions (from point of view to the narrator's "voice" to the story's tone [is this shit a comedy, tragedy, or what?] to a character's name and disposition) that it's easy to freeze up in the face of all these choices and just go lie back down. The more I write, the more it seems apparent to me that the best writers out there aren't just spinning magical words from the fibers of their talented heart but are also making the myriad of snap decisions a good manager has to make, or an all-pro quarterback makes in the face of an all-out blitz. Writers are just feeling their way through a story, going with their gut instinct all the time, and while sometimes they make bad decisions, what sets a good writer apart is the ability to consistently tell a story with the least amount of false notes and dead ends. More than anything, I think that is what is meant when professors and critics talk about an author finally finding their voice-it's not just the author's tone on the page itself, but that firm voice inside their head telling them which path to go down, again and again and again.


Anonymous said...

i like your blog, David :) I've liked it for years now :)

David Oppegaard said...

Thank you!

Noah said...

I thought you were going to reference Peter from Family guy - when he spends one episode talking about his life outloud in the narrative third person.

you have great, very edible posts about the craft of writing. And you sprinkle in enough sports references to make me terrified of undertaking that endeavor for realsies.

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