Ever since I can remember, I was told, “Speak up,” “What was that again?” or “I can’t hear you.” My naturally soft-spoken voice was like the high, soft notes of a piano competing against a raging bass guitar or the endless pounding of the drumline. Among my opinionated friends, it was often difficult to get a word in edgewise. I’d start to say something, only to be drowned out when someone interrupted. Nobody noticed. Those who made the loudest noise got the most attention.
I suppose that was why I started talking to the imaginary people in my head. They listened. They “got” me. They told me stories. And eventually, I recorded these stories, though I never quite had the courage to share them with real people.
But recently, I’ve been trying to live just a little more outside my comfort zone. Step by step. Raising the bar a little higher each day.
At the beginning of this year, I decided to sign up for a writers’ conference for the first time. I was scared out of my mind. After all, these were real writers. What if I wasn’t good enough to be in their presence? What if they hated my writing? What if they discovered I was a fake?
Then the week of the conference finally came. Right when I walked in to get my name badge, I met a friendly red-head, and it just so happened this was her first conference too. We decided to hang out together, and within just the next few hours, we met two other ladies. And our band of four became pretty close as the week progressed.
I can’t even begin to describe how incredible the whole experience was. The energy of the conference, the positivity and encouragement, the knowledge shared by more experienced writers and workshop leaders who actually wanted to help—it was all remarkable.
It’s been a month since I came home, and I still haven’t been able to process all of it. All I can say is that I was able to achieve goals I never thought I would have the courage to do even just a year ago. I met with an agent who liked my story idea and sought me out a second time to encourage me to submit it to her, even if it took three years for me to finish. I read a snippet of my story to a critique group and survived (though I thought I might throw up in front of them).
When I came home, I was eager to apply my newfound knowledge to my story. I stared at the blinking cursor. And the words didn’t come. Then an editor emailed me. I had sent her my story a couple months before, and she had some comments.
“Your main character could benefit from having a more distinct voice.”
That positive high I’d felt during the conference plummeted. I had already thought my character did have a distinct voice. The word “voice” was even in my story title. It was part of the theme. The whole point of the story revolved around my character’s discovery of her voice. If I hadn’t conveyed that to this editor, then my whole story was nothing but garbage.
The editor went on to say that she just didn’t understand why my character “snapped” at pivotal times in the story even though she was quiet and cared so much about following the rules at the beginning. She seemed to have a split personality.
So I started reflecting on my protagonist. Would she suddenly stand up against evil when she was scared to do so before?
My answer was yes. Quiet introverts can roar as loud as angry politicians under the right circumstances and when given the chance.
But my editor was right. The “why” and the “how” are important. How does she get to the point when staying silent is no longer an option? Why would she suddenly snap when she had always kept her mouth shut and submitted to the unfairness of her world? What made her tick enough so she could no longer stay quiet?
As I’m searching for these answers now, I’m finding that I don’t have to look far.
Quiet people are often judged to be less important. Quiet people are often underestimated.
I am often underestimated. The frustration of having people brush me off because I’m not outspoken enough, loud enough…that is what sets off my temper. That is what makes me want to prove myself to those who treat me like a speck on the wall.
And it’s not that I don’t have the ability. It’s just that it’s comfortable not to speak up. In the past, only when external factors popped up in life—presentations in grad school, assignments at work, telling off a racist woman—was I finally forced to open my mouth.
This is the angle I’m taking for my character’s development and voice. And in the overall story, I think it will work. Because guess what? Quiet people are never perceived to be dangerous. The villains will never know what hit them.