Wonderful Words on Voice from Jewell Parker Rhodes

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I can’t write the story until I get the voice of the main character in my head. Sometimes that can take months or even years before I’m ready to start writing.

So in that sense, the orality of writing is very important to me. Orality is how I get into the character. Then when I revise, even when I’m not reading it aloud, I’m hearing the voice inside my head as I’m writing.    

 ~Jewell Parker Rhodes

So, I fell a little behind in my magazine reading. Actually, I thought I was caught up, but I found the March 2011 behind a pile of more recent periodicals and have only now been enjoying it.

In the “How I Write” column at the back of the magazine, Jewell Parker Rhodes discusses why she writes, where she gets ideas, voice and more.

This particular quote really struck me because I’ve been reading a lot of books about characterization and plotting in the last few years, and many set up a strict dichotomy saying you are a plotter (plot comes to you first and you work out the details before you start writing) or a pantser (character comes to you first and you just write, permitting him or her to lead you into the story). The theory seems to be once you know what you are, there are steps you can take to streamline and improve your writing.

However, I’ve never felt either of those paradigms described me. Like the “pantser” I don’t start writing without a character. However, unlike the “pantser” once I have a character, I don’t sit down and just start writing. Instead, I start collecting. My character “talks” and I engage in a lot of “what if-ing,” and slowly the shape of the story to come emerges in the interacting between her voice and my questions. I jot a lot of notes. Eventually I sit down and attempt to lay them out in chronological order and, at last, am able to write.

Because of this process, I have come to think of myself as a plotter. However, I could never begin plotting if I had not heard my character’s voice. Is it possible that makes Jewell an I “voicers”?