My two daughters tell me they have trouble reading my books because they hear me telling the story. It’s not that I have a terrible speaking voice, necessarily. It’s that my stories deal with murder and suspenseful creepiness. They don’t like me “narrating” those stories.
Interesting thought, isn’t it?
When I pick up a James Patterson novel featuring Alex Cross, I picture and hear Morgan Freeman. He portrayed Cross in the movies Along Came A Spider and Kiss The Girls. That would be normal, I think, to picture that character with Freeman’s persona applied to it. When I pick up a John Sandford book featuring Lucas Davenport or Virgil Flowers, I picture those characters as Sandford describes them in the books. I’ve read so many of them, the “picture” and the “voice” come naturally to me.
When writers sit down at a laptop and shape their stories by choosing their words carefully, there is a “voice” that reads along with what is being written. Even as I sit at my desk writing this piece, I hear my voice. I tend to write as I speak. Comfortably, casually, yet precisely, because I choose my words carefully.
Think for a moment about the current book you are reading. Whose voice do you hear as you read? And I’m willing to bet a million bucks (not that I actually have that to bet, mind you) that you hear a voice as you read the words. It could be your own voice. It could the actor who portrayed that character on the big or small screen. It could be the person described by the author. In any and in every case, you hear a voice.
I hadn’t thought about that before. Just as the above graphic explains, we read with our eyes, yet we hear those words spoken to us. I’m not sure where that comes from or how it comes about. I know that there is truth in that statement, however.
I’ve written before that the words an author chooses are deliberate. They are precise. They are a conscious effort by the author to convey meaning- his, hers, ours, yours. The author describes the world in which they live, the world in which you live.
Brian is a character featured in my last three books. He is a thinker. Normally a quiet guy, but as you know, many times a quiet person has deep thoughts, and raging, racing feelings traveling around one’s head and heart. Brian is precisely this kind of character.
The passage I’m going to use is from my most recent book, Betrayed. Understand that I chose that title as deliberately as I depicted the action in the book and with the characters- both external and internal. Betrayal comes in all shapes and sizes, and you know from your own experience that when betrayal occurs, it is usually from someone you love and care about, and whom you thought loved and cared about you.
Brian leaned forward, placed both hands on his face, and wept. He was scared for perhaps the first time in his life. He was uncomfortable and lonely. Worse than when his brother Brad was shot and killed, and worse than when his mom shot his dad.
Bobby had abandoned him, and now George. Who else might abandon him?
What if Jeremy harbored doubts about him? What if Jeremy and Vicky were disgusted about what, or who, he and Bobby were . . . might be? They had already made him and Bobby sleep in different bedrooms. What if Jeremy and Vicky weren’t truthful about how they felt? Brian could not live with that.
He stared at his rifle. He flicked the safety off, and wrestled with dark and dangerous thoughts. He moved it upside-down and stared down the barrel. As much as he wanted to, he hesitated. While it seemed like a long time, it was only a moment or two before he flicked the safety back on, but the thoughts were there like an ugly monster residing just below the surface.
Brian attempted to dry his face on the sleeve of his shirt but the tears would not stop. He pulled out his cell and dialed.
“Hey, Bri. Are you guys having fun?” Jeremy sounded cheery.
Brian could not bring himself to speak.
“Bri, are you there?”
Brian held the phone in one hand, while the other covered his eyes and wept.
“Bri, are you okay? Is that you crying? Brian, answer me!”
Jeremy frantic. “Brian, what’s wrong? What happened?”
Brian could not answer. He dared not answer because he didn’t know what might spill out. He held the phone away while his dad spoke to him, pleaded with him.
At last, Brian pushed the button to end the call.
When his cell vibrated, he ignored it. He wiped off his face again, took off his cowboy hat, and wiped down his hair. He repositioned it back on his head the way he normally wore it. He sighed, lifted his chin, and resolved that no matter what, he was not about to talk to George or Rebecca the rest of the trip. Maybe ever. He hoped that when he got back to the burned-out ranch, they would be gone.
As you read that passage, whose voice did you hear? Brian has never been portrayed in a movie (I wish!). But again, I’m willing to bet you heard a voice, someone reading that passage. I’m also willing to bet that you could picture that action as if it was a film appearing in your head as you read the words.
Margaret Atwood is credited with saying, “Word after a word after a word is power.” There is truth to this statement. Authors use words to push the writer to picture, and to hear, what they wrote. Authors use words to convey meaning in their world, often using their own experiences or the experiences of others.
Next time you pick up a book, listen for the voice that reads you the words you see. That voice might surprise you.