Thursday, October 1, 2009

Guest Post: Author Barry Smith Finds His Character's Voice

First I want to thank Jennifer for letting me write this guest post. She was one of the first people to review my new book, Only Milo, so I am pleased to be here today.

The creative process is mysterious. The development of Milo’s distinctive voice fits into that category. But exactly how it evolved is an interesting story.

During the early nineties, I twice started a work called Only Milo, but I never got past the second page. The concept involved a central character who went through life being taken for granted—hence the expression, “it’s only Milo.” While I aborted both projects, I felt very comfortable with the narrative voice. But at that point I had not yet identified the right story for Milo.

In early January of this year (coincidentally, it was my birthday) I wrote what I thought was the opening line of a new work. The next morning, I opened that file and a novel began pouring out of me. When I was about halfway through the second page of the manuscript, I realized I was writing Only Milo again, but this time it was working. I can still remember the amazing “light bulb coming on” moment—I was finally writing Milo’s story.

Of course, on page two, I still had no idea what that story was, so I let Milo take me along on his wild and crazy journey. The voice was the same I had used in my earlier attempts, but now it was more mature and confident. This is where the creative process took over. The novel flowed out of me in three or four major writing frenzies over the next few months.

Music has always been an influential part of my life. My mother was a piano teacher, and all five siblings in my family were musically inclined. I discovered as Milo’s voice evolved throughout the first part of the novel that I was becoming heavily influenced by the rhythm of the narration. I could feel his voice becoming more confident (and a bit more arrogant) through the end of Part 1, and I was more confident as a writer because my ear had picked up his rhythm. I think this is why the second part was written so quickly and had so few changes during the revision process.

Because Milo was going through some important life changes at the beginning of Part 3, the tone and rhythm were modified a bit during that part of the work. He became less arrogant and self-absorbed. And while I was worried at the outset of this project that I would not be able to carry this distinctive voice all the way through a novel-length work, in the end I had no trouble making it to the finish line.

I think there must be a bit of Milo deep inside me, because of all the writing I have done over the last 25 years, this voice is by far the most comfortable one I have used in fiction. This was true in the early nineties, when I couldn’t get past page two, and it was true when the final, full-length novel was completed.

“Maybe it was the SPAM Reuben sandwich” is still the first line of the book. And I guess only Milo knows for sure how the following 256 pages evolved.

1 comment:

  1. Great guest post. I'm not much of a writer except for journaling and blogging, but I still find it fascinating the process writers go through to get out their perfect story!