Speak to Me

I'm a sucker for voices. I like the sound of language spoken.

I especially enjoy bass voices, ones that make you think of words like "resonant" and "timbre." The first boy who kissed me and really kissed me was older, his voice deeper than any boy in my grade, and it struck me like a plucked string whenever he said my name. I've dated three boys with accents, one whose voice was clipped and tumbled softly over the harsh edges of consonants, swallowing the ends of words, another whose every sentence was liquid burbled bubbling that tickled down my spine, and the third was from Liverpool. (He spoke Scouse and was always good for a laugh!)

So it should be no surprise that while most writers fill their folders with photos of movie stars and models, knowing the hair style and type of nose and he exact shade of their characters' eyes, my files are filled with memories or movie clips capturing a sound or voice delivering a line. I may have a vague impression of what my characters look like, but I know *exactly* what my characters sound like.

Is it what they say or how they say it?

In every story I've ever written, there is someone with a distinctive, deep voice. Most often, these are bass voices or tenors or some rich, rumbling echo that emerges from their chest like a summer storm. I can hear James Earl Jones and Ron Perlman, Sir Patrick Stewart and, most recently, Jim Carter. These men have a quality to their voices, the delivery of their words, that slip beneath speech and give their words power and grace, depth and vibrancy, weight and breadth. These are voices that command respect, piercing right to the core and humming like a gong, reverberating in our heads.

I love that.

Oddly enough, my brother has a voice like this--something I never knew until I came home from college--a voice made for singing in vaulted halls, rich and chocolate-thick and when he sings, it fills the world and I can't believe that such a sound can come out of a person, let alone a person I know. He tips back his head with it, opening his throat and lengthening his spine to let the sound pour out. I am in awe of my little brother in those moments. The sound is what the word "sublime" was made for. It is this quality that I find most humbling and fit for characters who deserve a little awe, a little external characteristic that exemplifies their internal (awesome) character.

Whatever the reason, voices "speak to me" in a way that pictures can't quite capture. Voices breathe and resonate and make a character real to me in a way that exists off the page and in my mind. When I write folks like Graus Claude, I hear James Earl Jones. Ink's voice, too new and fresh to have weight, spoke in a "simple way that sliced through sound." And when I wrote Nikolai, I gave him one of my favorite lines: “Happy Lehman’s Day, Joy.” he said with a grin. His accent was like marzipan, rich and sweet.

Yeah, I'm a sucker for voices.

What "speaks" to you beyond the hair and eye color of your characters? Is it a quirk? A color? A smell? A sound? Share some thoughts, links or clips in the comments: we're listening!


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