Other voices Writing Tip

 

Faking other voices

So instead I now suggest this to my students: If you are unsure of yourself, then be someone else. Be yourselves if you can, but if you are unable to come up with a good topic of your own, if you are unsure of your personal opinion, then choose a voice. Choose a personality. What person would you like to be? If you cannot come up with a clear idea of what you think about Moby Dick, then imagine what a Trotskyite lesbian terrorist gang leader might think, or a capitalist banker, or Michael Jordan, Jesse Jackson, Jesse Ventura, Jesse Helms, or your football coach, or your favorite rap star, or your Yiddish uncle, or one of the characters in the text - anyone but your teacher. The exasperated-professor voice of this book is a good example; in reality, I'm what my friend Gale Waldron calls a "wuss," a softy, really! I sound strict, but I give more A's than I ought to admit.

As a way of introducing the possibility of faking a voice when I teach composition, I ask the students to write a paper describing their most admired relative. Their next paper has to be in the voice of that relative. This is more an exercise in acting than in honesty, but, hell, as Shakespeare said, we are all acting our parts upon the stage anyhow. Sincerity is for saints and mystics, or for liars. Besides, I don't know who you "really" are any more than you do. All I want is a clearly heard voice with a distinct opinion backed up by some facts as evidence for your argument. I also want to be entertained. Don't bore me; ham it up a bit.

The reason I ask for honesty in the first place is not, I confess, because I care all that much about your personal emotional development. I primarily want to read a paper that struts the solid certainty of an honest, heartfelt opinion. Like the reaction I get listening to a speech by Alan Keyes, the good, solid feeling that goes with conviction is what I want, even if I don't agree. The best works of literature may well be brilliant deceptions, as all human endeavors must ultimately be. "All is vanity," said the prophet, and he was right. If you are one of those lucky self-deceived souls who thinks he or she knows something, then good, go for it. Use "your" most honest voice. But if you are still in the wilderness of youthful uncertainty, then "choose a voice." If you can't make it, fake it. That's what most writing is all about. None of us is as good as we can make ourselves sound on paper.

 
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