September 26, 2015

Horse 1992 - The Little Voices

One of the projects that I've worked on recently was writing a Purimspiel (Purim play). Our church is making a pass through of several of the smaller books of the Bible and I happened to notice that the weekend after we finish the book of Esther, will be the thirteenth day of the twelfth month which is numerically the day on the Jewish calendar which Jewish people celebrate the festival of Purim, which commemorates the liberation of the Jews from the plot of Haman. The nation of Israel uses a different calendar to us and Purim usually falls sometime in March but it was still an interesting coincidence and one that warranted running the idea of  Purimspiel up the flagpole.
The reason that I make mention of this is because Mrs Rollo is currently reading a Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Dickens once remarked that he heard little voices in his head for all the characters he was writing; knowing the sort of showman that he was, I don't know if this implies schizophrenia or if this was just for emphasis. Rest assured that I don't hear little voices in my head other than my own internal monologue; which is entirely my own creation but I can attest to the sentiment that when writing, you tend to want to imagine the voices of your characters in your mind as you play with them in an imaginary theatre.

Esther is one of those books of the Bible which lends itself to dramatisation because its structure resembles that of a comic farce. It has an idiot king, a mad bad villain and the hero of Esther is the only sane person in the story. It also contains the elements of a tragedy, with Haman setting up the conditions which lead to his own downfall. As a piece of literature to use as a base from which to work from, it is excellent.
Now probably because I have listened to so much comedy and drama on the radio over manu years, in writing the script for this Purimspiel, I have a whole cast of pretend voices in my head for everyone. King Xerxes for instance sounds like a deranged Richard III or perhaps like Marcus Brigstocke as King Stupid, whilst scheming Haman has a slippery sort of voice like Valentine Dyall from Dracula, and Esther sounds more like X in Anna Karenina (she also played X in Outnumbered). I am quite quite sure that if a production is put on of this, then my preconceptions will be instantly shattered like a sledgehammer passing through a pane of glass and all the little pretend voices that I've assigned in my head with instantly disappear.

I suffer from this sort of thing all the time. To illustrate this, merely writing the phrase "Good news everyone" instantly recalls the voice of Professor Farnsworth from Futurama in my mind. Give me an epic classic with a cast of hundreds of characters and in my mind, I will have crafted distinct and different voices for all of them. I don't know if other people also do this but I wonder if that's one of the reasons that when a movie is made of a book, people are frequently disappointed. Almost always, the book will be better than the film and I suspect that is because that on some level, the silver screen can never hope to match the richness of vision that our mind's eye has imagined into existence. I will confess though that the obvious exception for me was Tolkien's "The Lord Of The Rings" trilogy because I find Tolkien's writing so incredibly tedious that even bashing my head with the book is a better experience than reading it; so of course the movie would be better than the book in such circumstances.

Probably because Dickens's work as a court attendant had brought him into the world of so many different characters, he could bring a small distillation of them to life in his prose. Tolstoy was also able to do likewise because in the cold Russian winters when everyone was kept indoors, it allowed people's minds to engage with the written word far more easily. As a hack writer who blasts forward in 1300 word bursts of noise and confusion, I don't have that sort of fluidity to be able to make those sorts of characters appear on stage in the theatres of people's minds; nor can I make them dance like macabre marionettes and so I'm perfectly aware of my place. That would be the pinnacle of writing though.

I did find though that in vomiting hundreds of words of dialogue at a time though, that as I was writing, the characters would almost want to interject and be as annoying as possible. On the first draft, King Xerxes assumed a more regal kind of role who was unaware of his own power but this just seemed too lifeless to me. By the third draft, I'd turned him into a a self-aware fool in my mind and this made things far easier as well. By also imagining how I wanted this to be staged, with only three microphones and a hidden area, I was also able to play with the issues that might arise with having a very large cast. Also, by imagining the whole thing as a radio play, I could also play with the way that characters interacted with each other and in the process have dramatically slashed the necessary budget needed to put on such a thing.

I think that when writing a script especially, you need to have a degree of imagination for the voices that you want to give your characters. People is the real world have their own tone, metre, pitch and vocabulary; so I don't see why a set of made up characters shouldn't also have likewise. The first reader of any document is the person engaged in writing it and in my case, if the voice doesn't sound believable, then I doubt if a consequent reader or listener will find it believable either.
Even when I'm writing a blog post such as this, I usually do so in silence or with some slow music playing (like the Windows chimes at 8000 times slower) because my brain simply can not process my own internal monologue and another voice at the same time. I think that it would be impossible for me to write something whilst listening to a podcast for that reason.

I don't know if what I've said is true for any other writer. I might very well be the only one in the world who makes up internal voices for all the characters that I either read or write and if I am, I think that I must be one of the luckiest people in the world because everything is like a stage play for me. All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players- so dance for me, my pretties!

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