Can You Lose Your Narrative Voice?

2015 Artwork Can You Lose Your Narrative Voice article sketch

Although I’ll mostly be talking about my own writing and creative work in this article, there will hopefully be more to it than just introspective naval-gazing. But, if you’re not interested in reading any of that (and I don’t blame you) then I’d recommend skipping to the last two paragraphs.

As I’ve mentioned a few times before, I’ve got to the point where I see myself more as an artist than a writer. Now that I’ve had a few years of practice at painting and drawing, I find that turning the contents of my imagination into paintings is far more intuitive, swift and satisfying than trying to shoehorn them into a narrative or translate them into words.

As such, although I retain all of the theoretical knowledge I’ve learnt from years of writing practice and although I can easily dissect the things that I read and watch in order to learn more about storytelling, my actual skills as a (fiction) writer have atrophied like a starving zombie in a secret laboratory somewhere.

A while before I wrote this article, I was randomly surfing the internet when I happened to find a few articles about the horror genre and horror fiction. This was my favourite genre of fiction during my teens and, hell, one of the reasons I first got into writing fiction was because I wanted to be a splatterpunk author.

So, naturally, my next thought was “I should try writing some horror fiction. Just a quick short story to prove that I’ve still ‘got it’.”

So, I fired up WordPad and, after a couple of attempts, I managed to write a dramatic first sentence. It read: “The sky was the colour of three-day dried blood, deep black and shiny as obsidian“.

Then…. nothing. I froze.

Not only did I realise that I had no clue who the narrator was or what would happen next, I also noticed that my narrative voice didn’t quite feel “right”.

It felt awkward, heavy, leaden and pretentious. It sounded like the kind of thing muttered by the perpetually-glum protagonist of a modern Hollywood movie. It didn’t have the “bounce” that my narrative voice used to have when I used to write fiction more regularly.

My narrative voice didn’t have the “personality” that it used to have back when I could proudly call myself a fiction writer. I started to wonder if I’d lost my narrative voice altogether, if – like some wispy ethereal spirit, it had vanished into the shadows – never to be seen again.

These days, on the rare occasions that I feel like I have a story worth telling or an idea that could turn into an interesting story – it often emerges from me in comic form rather than as fiction. Kind of like this:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Dead Sector - Page 5" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Dead Sector – Page 5” By C. A. Brown

But, the funny thing is that I can still see traces of my old narrative voice in these comics – they still have my cynicism and a certain carefree “bounciness” that my recent failed attempt at writing fiction didn’t have. They still drip with dark humour, even when I attempt to tell a more “serious” story.

So, maybe my narrative voice isn’t lost – maybe it just transformed itself into something slightly different?

And, well, maybe it isn’t even entirely a “narrative voice” any more. I noticed that, back in 2009 and 2010, I was incredibly proud of finally finding my own unique narrative voice. These days, I’m incredibly proud of finding my own unique art style.

But, again, my art style has some of the “bounciness” that my old narrative voice used to have. No matter how “serious” or “gloomy” I try to make my art, it almost always ends up looking slightly cartoonish. Whenever I try to draw a ferocious monster, it always ends up looking more amusingly adorable than disturbing. Whenever I try to paint a beautiful landscape, it will almost always be at night or during a sunset because my art style is kind of gothy.

So, I guess that if you have an extended period of writer’s block or you end up moving away from writing and work in another medium, your narrative voice doesn’t go away.

It might change or hide itself slightly, but it will still emerge in whatever you create. Why? Because it’s part of you.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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