Melbourne, City of Literature, is heading into official writerly season, with the Melbourne Writers Festival and this year, for those with an interest/obsession in all things science-fictiony and popcultury Aussie Con 4 . Appearing for MWF (but perhaps he could be forced to loiter for AC4?) is Joss Whedon. Everyone familiar with his work is beyond excited at this prospect.
So I’m going. Yay! And I began thinking about questions I could ask Mr Whedon, TV Writer of Renown and started thinking about Voice.
Joss Whedon has a very strong writing voice. All his works have the stamp of Jossness. But then all strong writers/producer/show runners should? And, what is this Jossness of which I speak?
For me, Whedon consistently demonstrates a playful sense of quirky speech rhythm. He loves how people communicate and makes up new phrases and terms to suit them (shiny!). His stories can be bleak, but his focus is on families, more specifically, found families, thus people in his stories are drawn together through shared experiences (often apocalyptic). Through conflating different genres Whedon explores specific themes, like survival, redemption, identity and empowerment and some have argued, through a feminist stance, plus with violence. (See Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse)
Other TV writers have strong voices. Russell T Davies has a particular strength with repeated refrains (I love a little shop). He uses them to reveal how his characters think and feel and to lend them concreteness and continuity in changing worlds. And he’s careful with pauses and commas in speech. He Knows, how People, cantaketime to think…and speak. His interest is in exploring and testing relationships in extremes, Queer as Folk, Bob and Rose, Dr Who, Torchwood, all feature varied plots and are in different genres, but are fundamentally about the heart and how it breaks under pressure. And his voice remains, even given the unique status of Dr Who. There are 40 years of rules writers must abide for that particular program, yet he managed to maintain his vision and voice for his version (regardless of whether fans loved or loathed it).
The interesting thing is how TV writers maintain and even strengthen their Voice, since it’s filtered through directors, actors, editors, TV execs, focus groups, episode writers, music, setting, lighting, foley…everything. Surely it comes back to the words on the page? How much easier should it be for a novelist or poet or short story writer to establish and maintain Voice, without all these filters/changers to work around? Just my Voice in the head of the Reader, via the page or site. Cool. Scary. Cool. Perhaps my question to Mr Whedon, is how, how do you get that Voice across from the Page to the Faithful Viewer?
So Voice. Excited to perhaps find out what Mr Whedon thinks, but my conclusion on Voice is, in the end, it’s Who You Are on The Page. Each individual writer is unique, but brings with them all kinds of abilities influences, and knowledge. Each Voice is comparable and contrastable. Writers may work alone, but they read and watch TV and spend a lot of time deliberately and accidentally absorbing everything around them. Which is why commonalities emerge. This is the source and fun of Literary, Cultural and Intertextuality Studies. But, just like fingerprints, writers are unique.
When I write, having absorbed so much plot, character and language goodness from Firefly or Umberto Eco or Bowie or Buffy or Dr Who or Arnold Zable or Hemingway or The Moff or China Meiville or Being Human, I eventually return to my blank page and must eliminate everything Not my Voice. Because what I write is me (to paraphrase Gerard Manly Hopkins). Sure I thieve a word here and get inspired there. But without my own Voice I’m not a writer. I’m a Typer. And if Mr Whedon has taught me anything, he’s taught me I’m a writer. I have a Voice and I need to fight for it to exist in this mad old world. What the hell else is there to do?
‘Cept go see Joss Whedon and say thanks:)