I just got back from Lake Tahoe where I spent a wonderful week with my family. Even though it was summer and there wasn’t an active ski lift in sight, I was reminded of the power of snowflakes when I read Shelly Winters’ trashy Hollywood autobiography Shelly, Also Known as Shirley.
First of all, I had no idea she slept with Marlon Brando. Second of all, she also slept with William Holden. Thirdly, she slept with Burt Lancaster. Way to go Shelly!!
But the thing that struck me most was how clearly I could hear her unique “voice” in the writing. I’d always assumed she was a brassy dame, but this really came through in her pages. Whenever she had sex with someone, she revealed this, movie style, by writing… “Cut to Waves pounding on a beach, Trees swaying in the storm….”
This device was super funny, created a running joke in the narrative, and gave us a glimpse of her wry sense of humor.
Of an early morning spent with William Holden after a debauched Christmas Eve party at Paramount, Winters writes, “He looked around groggily and gulped down the coffee. He took a very hot and then a very cold shower and insisted I join him. After three more cups of black coffee, when he looked like he could drive, I helped him put his clothes on and he did the same for me. We almost got sidetracked but I wouldn’t allow it. I kept thinking of those poor children waiting for their presents. As Holden drove away in the dawn, he shouted back, “By the way, what’s your name?’
And for some strange reason I answered, “Sonia Epstein.”
Later in the manuscript, she writes about her feelings of guilt when she sleeps with married men. But because Winters describes the events of her life as if she were talking to a close friend, in her own sassy ‘voice’, we connect deeply with her, and are compelled to read on, despite her flaws.
Are you doing the same in your own pages?
If you’re writing a memoir, are you telling your life story as if you were describing the events to a friend, over coffee? Do we get your sense of humor, or your poetic-ness, or a sarcastic turn of phrase that reveals you? Are you leaning into all the great (and challenging) things that make you YOU?
If you’re writing a novel, do we get the voice of your main character, loud and clear? If she’s shy, is her manner of speech stilted or awkward? If she’s brave, does she speak with confidence? Do we get a sense of your point of view as you write this character’s journey? Are you writing in your own natural authentic rhythms, telling the story in a way that only YOU can write it?
And if you’re writing a screenplay, can we hear your authorial confidence in the way you describe the action? In the way you write your scenes? Do we get a sense of the mind behind the narrative?
For example, here are the opening lines of the screenplay for NIGHTCRAWLER, by Dan Gilroy.
INFINITY OF STARS
Over barren ground… if not for a Billboard reading
LOSE WEIGHT With The Lapband
1 800 Get Thin
Even though he’s describing just what we see and hear (which is what a screenwriter does,) we get a sense of the irony as he juxtaposes the poetic quality of the stars, with the crassness of the billboard. Through Gilroy’s description of what we see onscreen, we experience his ‘voice’ through the visuals. It’s absurd, acid, and later in the film travels darkly into satire.
Take Action! Are you revealing your own true voice in your pages? If you’re working on a memoir, do we get a clear sense of the way you talk and think? Are we getting the specificity of YOU? If you’re writing a novel, do we get the strong voice of your main character? Do we also get a sense of the author behind the story, your own specific style of communicating a thought or a theme? If you’re writing a screenplay, are you revealing your ‘voice’ through the visuals and descriptive action?
A great way to lift your pages out of the slush pile is to utilize your one-of-a-kind “snowflake” voice. Take a look at your pages. How can you embrace your unique point of view even more fully to make yourself stand out?
Here’s how Shelly describes a low, final tender moment with her French lover Raymond Pellegrin…
“He sat on the edge of the tub and sang a lovely French song to me. I understood almost every word. Then he bathed me with a huge sponge as if I were a baby. It got to the point where I was hoping he wouldn’t powder and diaper me afterward. Instead, cut to:
The fountains at the Place de la Concorde…The Seine flowing tenderly through the city of Paris… And the fireworks of Bastille Day, blotting out Lautrec’s sad dancers at Montmartre.”
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