In a response to last week’s post about MFA vs. NYC, a commenter who goes by the avatar Joplingirl noted that, “Finding a voice is inherently about bringing to the page a silenced story.” I love that idea, and the thought has been returning to me occasionally since, no doubt because of the number of stories I’ve been reading for Tahoma Literary Review.
Submissions for the journal bring in all manner of fiction, from around the world, and from all perspectives, and I can’t tell you how excited Kelly and I are about that. But they’ve made me think a lot about the silenced story and what it means.
My first thought brought to mind the idea of the unobtrusive author, the writer who is able to remove him/herself from the text so that the characters and events tell the story. Decades ago it was common for writers to play God, to address readers directly and lecture them about the story. We have changed since then—readers prefer to interpret works for themselves. But even now many writers have trouble getting past the “Look at me, look at the words I’ve used. See how creative my writing is!” type of prose that draws attention to itself and pulls the reader away from the characters. I was one of them.
But it also occurred to me that a silenced story is also one that has been thought through, not only to a surprising, but logical conclusion, but also has had its “noisy” aspects quieted. By this I mean those passages that are never resolved to the story, that provide information we don’t need, or take us on an unnecessary tangent. I suspect this is because the writer didn’t spend enough time in the revision process, which includes letting it sit for weeks or months before approaching it fresh. In fact, a comment I make often while reading the submissions is that the story isn’t quite ready, that the author needs more time to develop its theme and flow, to distill the work down to its essentials and nothing more.
The silenced story has become my new mantra.