Editing the HEARTSTEALER audiobook continues apace. As with every new type of project, I’m learning lots: some things about particular voices, some things about my own idiosyncrasies in writing (they’re a lot more obvious when read aloud…).
Blythe’s narrating, of course. It’s been fascinating for me, because the two characters that blow me away are the two I never would’ve pegged her for. Naturally, she’s doing stellar work with the entire novel – but these two broken, fragile, hard-edged women are standout performances.
Naturally, that got me thinking, and I realised something:
I write best when I get out of the way.
I’ve had this nagging insecurity for a while. When I write characters for Blythe to voice, they’re…well, they’re good. They’re funny, sad, scary, whatever. But we’re not getting to that same depth I’m seeing in HEARTSTEALER.
And I finally realise:
When I write like that, I’m not giving her space.
I sing the praises of collaboration all the time. How different artists bring different aspects to the piece. How no one has to carry the entire piece alone, because the others are there, giving their support. How they are some things an actor or composer can do that a writer can’t, and so the words don’t have to try to do everything.
I’m not doing that.
It’s almost like I write to a certain level. There’s a ceiling. This is what I’m giving you; this is what you can do with it. It’s very difficult to rise past that level, because there simply isn’t enough there. Perhaps for the reader; not for the actor. It’s like how in prose, you have to leave room for the reader to bring something: otherwise, you smother them and there’s no engagement. You can’t resolve the chord for them.
So what makes Evelyn and Charlotte different?
I never wrote them to be performed aloud. I never wrote HEARTSTEALER with the intention of releasing it as an indie audiobook. And they are not the well-loved character types I’ve seen Blythe play a hundred times before.
You know that saying, “Dance like no one is watching”? That’s how I feel about them. I wrote like no one would be acting. I wrote them because I wrote them. They are what they are because they are, not because I think it’ll be challenging, or funny, or show off a particular strength.
They don’t have ceilings. There’s room to breathe.
A quick survey of my stable of short stories shows the same. The best stories are the ones I just wrote. Not the ones I wrote to further some grander design, or to vent, or because someone asked me to. I wrote as though no one were listening – I wrote for the story.
It’s hard. I’m looking at Six Stories, Told at Night (Secret Canadian Folklore Podcast: we got OAC funding!), and the play I’m noodling, and I wonder. After this long, how do you not write for a specific voice? Once you’ve seen the basilisk, how do you un-see it?
A line from Eliot comes to mind: “Teach us to care and not to care.” It’s a balancing act: giving the actor enough to chew on, not enough to choke them. Which means trusting more, I suppose. Trusting their art, trusting what they bring.
It also means letting go, a little. Focusing not on the other voice, but your own writer’s voice. Paradoxically, I think that’s how the actor finds theirs: when you half-forget they’re there. You may write assuming one actor or another will play the character, but it mustn’t affect the writing itself.
“Teach us to care and not to care…”
I’ve learned to care. Now, teach me not to care. Teach me to sit still.
What I’m Listening To This Week
I know this clip is 20 minutes long. I’m only listening to the first minute and a half. I looked, but the only recording I found of Eleanor Daley’s “Requiem Aeternam” is bundled into the entire requiem.
This piece haunts me. The choir sounds like passing bells: a hypnotizing chant, over and over. But it’s the words that get me: a setting of Carolyn Smart’s “The Sound of the Birds.” It captures grief and loss so very well, it’s like glass to the heart.
“Each night, I listened for your call.
And I but witness to the end.”