As I begin to write monologues and short stories for this project, I find myself thinking more and more about narrative voice. When I write poetry, I use my own voice most of the time. When using my own voice, I feel the least inhibited and self-conscious about my writing. There are diction and syntax considerations, of course, and decisions about rephrasing to be made. Still, when I’m writing from my own perspective, these decisions are generally meaning-oriented rather than designed to establish a particular narrative profile.
By contrast, when I write in other formats, I find that using the voices of others often feels necessary. Right now, I am writing a series of monologues and short stories in response to my time in Belfast. Most of the time, it feels wrong to write from my own perspective. I find that from my own point of view, as a young American, I have little of weight to say of most aspects of life in Belfast. However, though I want desperately to write from the point of view of a local to develop a voice of urgency, authenticity, and relevance, I find it hard to create a voice that a reader would find believable and coherent. As Anne-Marie pointed out to me last week, one of the most formidable obstacles in creating such a voice is dialect. In order to make a character from Belfast believable to the reader, it is important to capture the language of the city. I’ve wrestled with language choice in my pieces over and over again, but until recently I felt that I had come to an impasse. Then, about a week ago, my sister sent me a recording of a short story by Northern Irish author Benedict Kiely posted on the New Yorker website. The recording, narrated by Colum McCann, is so quintessentially Northern Irish that I felt almost transported back to my time in Belfast this summer. After listening to the story, titled “Bluebell Meadow”, I found that writing in a believable Northern Irish voice became immensely less intimidating and more natural. I’ll keep trying to immerse myself in Northern Irish literature as I write! Here’s the link: