What should a writer consider when choosing a narrator?
Take your characters out for a walk or up to the pub and ask for their individual perspectives on the story. What did they see and hear? What did they think and feel? These interviews can include omniscient viewpoints: for example, the voice of the landscape upon which events took place or the voice that embodies the spirit of time passing. Get their take on the story as well.
Choose the narrator with the most compelling reason to tell the story.
You have earned the title of ‘book whisperer’ at Varuna, the National Writers’ House. How does this title speak to your mentoring approach?
My approach is to ask questions of the manuscript and the writer to ‘whisper out’ the original reason behind the need to put down words, as the urgency to tell a story clarifies direction and is key to an authentic voice. This urgency doesn’t need to be explicitly spelled out in the manuscript, but is there in the narrator’s attitude, however subtle. The reader connects with that urgency and wants to know more.
What advice would you give a writer doubting their characters’ believability?
Ask each character about key events that altered the path of their lives, the decisions made and repercussions. Future motivation and attitudes are shaped by such things.
How a character reacts, speaks and moves must remain true to the totality of their lives. They should be able to walk out of your plot line and still exist. What would your characters do if you dragged them into your kitchen? How would they react if the toaster caught fire?
Carol Major has been a professional writer for over 30 years. She holds master and doctorate degrees in creative writing from the University of Technology, Sydney, where she has taught at graduate and postgraduate levels. Carol was among the founding editors of Connexions, a trailblazing journal on social issues and health. Her short stories and essays have been published in Canadian and Australian literary magazines and anthologies. She also runs a boutique consultancy that uses physical metaphors to inform urban design.
Carol has earned the title ‘book whisperer’ at Varuna, Australia’s National Writers’ House, where she mentors writers from many different backgrounds in fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry.
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