This is insane. I’m a week out from deadline and I haven’t got an angle. I’ve got these three books with male protagonists, each wrestling with their place in the world: Susan Beth Pfeffer’s the dead and the gone, Chris Crutcher’s Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes, and Neal Shusterman’s Unwind. Two of them deal with a not-too-distant future turned upside down, two of them are in the third person, two of them are by male authors, two of them feature main characters without adult figures in their lives… there’s no one thing that binds them together.
Except voice, this elusive thing I am looking for, the key to authenticity in a teen voice in literature. Yeah, I bit off more than I can chew.
This would be a perfect topic to tackle for my thesis a year from now when I can stretch out and take the historical view. I’d love to drag a line from Twain to the present, through scenic stops along Salinger and Burgess, and talk about how the exaggeration of authenticity itself creates an authentic voice. It’s a wisp of an idea, but I think it’ll hold water once I pull quotes and citations. The problem is that paper if something like 50 pages and I only need to pull together something like 8 to 10 right not.
And I mean, right now.
We all talk about voice — authorial voice, character voice, the tone of voice, the quirky, the dull, the obedient servant at the heart of a story — but what is it, I wonder, that makes a voice particularly boyish. How do boys talk, and how is it different than girls? Would we know a boy is speaking because of an implication of action in what they say? Is there a difference in what they say versus what they do? Can we point to specific characteristics or traits and say, definitively, that is a boy speaking?
This is the problem I’ve set up for myself. I ant to examine what it means to portray a boys voice but the commonalities, the markers, all appear superficial to me. Can it really be as simple as amplifying stereotypes? Is it that boys think differently than they speak, speak differently than they act? Sure, I could support these statements, but to do so requires time, it requires rereading the books and hunting down relevant passages. Maybe this is stupid of me, but I don’t go into a book (or a set of books) with a critical agenda looking for things I can cull later for an essay. I’m also not the fastest reader – I’ve never enjoyed a book I couldn’t savor – so doing it under the gun of a deadline makes me sloppy.
I can’t let these things rip me up. The critical requirement is helpful, useful, and informative to my goal as a writer, but if I have to start planning for it, giving it more time each packet, then I’m cutting into the heart of my creative work, which I already feel suffers from neglect. The part of me that wants to b a good writer won’t let me toss out a crappy essay. The part of me that wants to write a good essay doesn’t want to have to cram it into super-tight deadlines that don’t allow me to properly address the ideas involved.