Friday, April 25, 2014

V is for Voice Journals

Voice Journals  are a new "tool" in the character building workshop that I have been trying out.  I first heard of voice journals when I was hop-skipping around  the book The Art of War for Writers   by James Scott Bell.  In it he writes
The voice journal is my favorite way of getting to know a character.
A voice journal is simply a character speaking in stream-of-consciousness mode. You prompt the character by asking the occasional question, and then just let your fingers records the words on the page.  
’s essential that you do not edit as you write. It’s best to write in five- or ten-minute chunks, without stoppingIt. Over and over again.
(- If you want to see a longer excerpt of Bell's essay on the voice journal, see Alan Rizler's post on the topic.)  
I also stumbled on a version of voice journaling while listening to an interview by  Steven Moffat over at the BBC Writer's Room.  (Moffat is the writer behind the BBC Sherlock series which you should definitely check out if you have somehow managed to miss this great show.)  In it he talks about finding the voice of his character's by first writing pages of dialogue for them, until they say something he thinks is truly them. Then he scraps everything else and starts over with just that line.  Since he has created quite a multitude of characters many of us also eventually come to love, it is obviously a process that works well for him.
Of course, I tried them out when I was already feeling blocked, which only lead to a voice journal like this:

Director: Morning. Casting calls have finished. Characters are sitting in the waiting rooms ready for interviewing and life story recording.

Author: Sigh. I don't know if I'm ready for this.  (I start shifting toward the door)

Director: Stop right there in your tracks. NO edging out of this one. We've done our part. The characters have shown up.  Time to start talking to them. Or listening anyway.

Author: But...

Director: No buts. Just get in there and start listening. (shoving Author toward the character rooms) Seriously get in there. I'm flipping the switches for them to start in about t minus 45 seconds, so you'd better find your way to your first  character before then.

With  another sigh I slump my way toward the sounding booths and prepare for a long afternoon.  What if this story didn't work. What if this motley collection of characters couldn't be pulled off.  It was all going to be down to me screwing it up.  After all the work everyone had done. All the characters brewed and created from scratch.  Here I was about to start designing a story world for them and crafting their official voice. Botching it up.  Grrr. 

As I entered the long oval room, all in white with leather padding on the ceiling, the lights for the central room began to dim. Along both sides ran a row of gleaming windows into individual rooms. Each of the rooms was lit from within, the window framing a character. Each a character had a protrusion of wires and tabs connected to their scalps, linking them to a projector that could shower their room with flashes of  images from their memories.

Director:  Places everyone!

With the third sigh in less than a minutes, I slumped into the comfortable chair in front of room one and propped my feet up on the available foot rest.    Somewhere a buzzer sounded.  I pulled out my notebook and paper and slid on the special head set and glasses attached to the back of the chair.

Might as well take notes.  Easier than getting clubbed by the Director.

Hmm. Perhaps channeling my inner angst wasn't quite what I was going for.  What about you? Have you tried voice journals for getting at your characters?  What has been your experience?

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