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Writers Use Voice and POV for Protection - The Delicate Balance

Between Cloak and Dagger

Author: Robin Riback

This article was inspired by “The Writer’s Block” on Twitter X’s Spaces. We have weekly rich and meaningful conversations about almost every aspect of writing. I was particularly helped by our discussion about the difference between the writer and her work. I discovered that The Writer –You, me, the person who writes – is deeply nuanced, and so we must set ourselves apart from the stories we tell. All Novels and journalistic articles present a limited point of view about a particular slice of our lives. No matter the genre -- autobiography or memoir, science fiction or romance – what we write is not who we are.


We writers tightly grasp cloak and dagger to shield ourselves from our critics and from our own truths. Even the most forthright author speaks in a voice that differs from the person behind the


Our narratives are the cloaks we use to conceal our private feelings and deep beliefs about politics, religion, and social norms. These treasured feelings and thoughts leave us vulnerable to character assassination by well-meaning readers as well as nasty social media trolls.

Conversely, it is the mighty pen --or these days, rapid-fire keystrokes –that we wield like daggers to discover and reveal portions of our pain, confusion, and unpleasant truths, aka, “our dirty little secrets.”

And it is the delicate dance between cloak and dagger that allows us to forge forward with the difficult work of writing from the heart while remaining safe. What readers discover in our final manuscript is our victory march.

we writers all have literary tricks up our sleeves

By revealing that we writers all have literary tricks up our sleeves, I’ve thrown open my cloak and lifted my dagger so that we may explore our verbal veils and the raw honesty that lies beneath.

What lies behind the writer’s cloak?

We’ve all faced our share of difficulty. For many, suffering began when we were young. For me, suffering was never physical, yet it was, and remains, painfully confusing. Its lack of physicality shames me. Like, maybe I make things up because, after all, I’ve always been highly imaginative:

It is at this point in my --our --thought processes where we smash into tough truths, and for self-protection, we must retreat. We tell clever stories, hide in metaphors, use pen-names and aliases, not only for our own protection but also to shield our perpetrators! Because even those who know what they did are not who they were long ago. Like you and me, they’ve changed through time. And so, we use word cushions because we are humane.

How to speak truth through the cloak of fiction – Lana’s Regret

In the following vignette, I changed the names and events while leaving my feelings on the page.

Lana’s Regret

Lana literally lives with regret. Her house is cluttered with remnants of the past: half-eaten sandwiches, yellowing magazines, and a radio alarm clock that won’t shut off. Every morning, she tries to leave, but the baby with a butcher knife paces outside, stopping occasionally to look in the window. Again, the wet eyes follow her while its snaggle tooth etches the glass with one word – RETRIBUTION.

Now you see how it’s easier for me – and for you - to confront regret and fear through a fictitious narrative and a menacing voice.

We are reluctant politicians

Hot takes intentionally provoke outrage. Journalists are paid to express their black-and-white views, and social media hounds howl for free – The reward is an adrenaline rush that comes from stirring our deep emotions through their controversy.

But most of us are nuanced thinkers who wish to express our opinions without being screamed at, canceled, or doxed. Good luck with that!

Our private and internal conflicts about politics, religion, and social norms are a witch’s brew. Liberal and conservative beliefs sometimes swirl together, one counterbalancing the other, resulting in a stance that is moderate, murky, and unsuitable for today’s social media stances. Most writers are left to stew in a medley of ideology that only our private selves can abide. If we wrote our truths, haters would hate, and friends might turn on us. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the bravado of a TV talking head or a YouTube guru, so I won’t reveal What I Really Think because if I make myself known, you probably won’t like me, and if you don’t like me, it’s likely I can’t like myself.

Sound familiar?

The exception that proves the rule – The Babysitter

One of my favorite bloggers is the exception to the rule that all writers use cloak and dagger. She does not. She will not! She stabs straight into her truth without a protective cloak. She is ruthless, stoic, and maybe even a little psychotic. She doesn’t care what you think – of her writing or of her. Her sole intent is to engage her reader and pull us into her story. And that she does.

I am captivated by how she writes about trauma, depravity, and grit. Without flinching, she scrubs every last bit of sentimentality from her final manuscript. What we readers are left with – what we bear witness to – is Raw Experience.

She does not; she will not tell us how she feels or what she thinks.

I wrote this micro-fiction piece to mimic her voice:

The Babysitter

Nicole’s best friend, Wendy, was my babysitter. She had it in for me. Every Friday night, she came over with bloodlust in her veins. She would wait for my mom and dad to leave for the movies then she’d start in on me. She’d kick me and laugh. I often locked myself in the guest room until my parents came back. They asked what I was doing, and I’d say, “We were playing hide and seek.”

It was chilling for me to write in her dispassionate voice. And I now understand her explanation when she says offhandedly,

“I don’t put myself in my stories because it’s about you, dear reader. I need you to come to my writing to feel your feelings and think your thoughts. I am inconsequential.

Good for her. Most of us can’t write like that.

Most of us write with cloak and dagger.

Most of us can’t --and if we’re able, we shouldn’t --lay bare our thoughts and feelings without a protective cover. After carving our lived lives on paper with dagger, we must then take care by cloaking our preciousness with melodious voice and metaphor.


Article written by Robin Riback June 2024

Robin Riback is a writer who lives in New York City. For info about her upcoming novel, a sci-fi thriller about the secret to our universe, email her at -- Type INTERESTED in the subject line and put your name in the email if you wish.


You can find Robin Riback in these other locations.

X (Formally Twitter) Robin Riback (@RibackRobin)

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