As you might know by now I usually write while listening to music, in particular Original Soundtracks for all kinds of movies. Lately, I’ve been listening a lot to the OST for Joe Carnahan’s THE GREY. It’s a lovely inspiring tune – you should look it up. Yet, the first time I watched the movie was last night. It’s not brilliant but it’s a very interesting film, and Liam Neeson is so good in it – always containing a load of emotion and subtly letting it come out to the screen at the right times. It was really good to watch it. I have also wanted to speak about the Writer’s Voice and how it impacts your writing. When I watched the movie last night I felt like the two things were well connected and it was maybe the time to speak of both.
Every single text you write or read has a Message. Something that is at the core of what the author wants to communicate. It can be something simple like: ‘Good guys win and bad guys lose’, or ‘Love conquers all’, or ‘we Humans are amazing beings’. Or, as in the case of THE MATRIX something more complex (see here).
Even when the author has no idea of what is his/her message, it is there, branding the story in one way or another. When we try to smother it we ruin our writing. Our writing becomes bland, plain, unconvincing, weak. For years I didn’t know this. But at one point people didn’t seem to enjoy my writing. I knew I wrote well enough – I had won one of the most prestigious awards in the country and my short stories were being read and well reviewed. People just didn’t like my new stuff. Finally, I understood it: I wasn’t connecting. I wasn’t saying anything that was interesting to people – it wasn’t the way I wrote, it was what I wrote that was the problem. I needed to convey a Message that made sense to people, that made it worthwhile. But what? What did I have to say? And that’s when I understood: that’s what writers call The Voice! The Voice is having something to say! It’s having a Message.
So what did I have to say? How could I find My Voice? Oh, that was trickier. It was trickier and it took me years. For some time I thought I didn’t have anything interesting to convey to people. More than that. The stories I wanted to tell seemed not to have any Message. But then I started to discover it. The first thing I noticed was the themes. Stories also have Themes. For instance, I was writing THE ALEX 9 SAGA, a story about a commando from the 22nd century that finds herself in a world where civilization is still in the Middle Ages. I was certain I didn’t have any Message hidden in this story. But soon I found the theme: it was a story about Purpose. Alex 9 spends almost every chapter trying to find out what her secret mission is, a mission that her handlers failed to communicate to her. So she ends up finding a Purpose for herself and that purpose is what in the end leads her to the happiness and the fulfillment she always thought was not meant for her. And that’s when I found the Message of the story. It was: you can only find what you are looking for when you decide for yourself what your goal is. And something more about diverse families and how a family can come to be in unusual ways – but that’s a secondary Message.
In the end, it seems I did have something to say. And more: I found that if I was conscious of what my stories wanted to say, of my Themes and Messages, I could control much better the whole meaning and satisfaction of the story. It actually helped me plot more consistently, enrich the backgrounds and create subtle connections in the text. And so my next novel, THE DARK SEA WAR CHRONICLES was about Sacrifice, and how you must keep going in spite of everything. And my current WIP, LAURA AND THE SHADOW KING is about Hope and how it can achieve the incredible and lead you to where you never thought was possible.
And now, back to THE GREY. This is a movie about Survival. A man called Ottway has to go through the unthinkable, standing up after a plane crash in Alaska and leading a small group of survivors who are relentlessly chased by a deadly pack of wolves. I’m not particularly drawn towards tales of survival in the woods, although I’m also not drawn away from them. In some ways they remind me of the Path of the Writer – always struggling in a world of uncertainty, never knowing when his/her efforts are going to succeed, never knowing if he/she will ever be able to be read nor by how many. All kinds of obstacles seem to show up from the darkness to stop them in their tracks, but the Writers must go on, accept the challenge, keep at it. And that seems to be the Message of the movie. Not to give up, not to let go. It’s not a question of Hope, it’s a question of accepting the Path. Accepting this Challenge we call life. ‘Once more into the Fray’ says Ottway’s father’s poem, the one he grabs on until the end. ‘Live and die another day. Live and die another day.’
So once more into the fray, my fellow warriors. Go deep into yourselves and learn what you’re all about. The Message, that one thing you want to say, what you want people to hear, Your Voice, is right there, in front of you, in the deep lake of your soul. Your characters will say it for you. They will live it. They will shout it. You just have to live and die another day … and another… and another.