Monday, August 08, 2011

Voices in my head

I saw an article that fascinates me and has a direct impact on writing fiction. Scientists at the University of Glasgow have found that when reading direct quotations, the brain "hears" the voice of the speaker. This is something that you may have known intuitively, but now there's data to back it up. I know for myself that when I read, the voice I hear conforms to any hint the author has given about the character's voice: accent, tone, phrasing. On the other hand, if I happen to know the author, I hear their voice when their characters speak. Some more than others. Whenever I read Pat Cadigan's work, it's almost as though she's reading out loud to me.

When I read Nick Hornby's novel, Juliet, Naked, I somehow got it into my head that the book's narrator was Hugh Grant, and I heard him throughout the book. It was hard not to.

Knowing about this phenomena, an author could take steps to fix a particular voice in the reader's "inner ear." Maybe when a new character is introduced, the writer could describe it in an evocative way and reinforce it a few times.

An even more interesting device might be to recruit a well-known voice, such as that of a popular actor, to serve as a character's voice. It wouldn't be hard. "Joe Entwurst, despite his slight build, had a deep, rich, resonating voice, like the actor James Earl Jones. 'My children,' he crooned. "All of you are my precious children.'" Hmm, you'd probably have to phrase it properly and use appropriate diction. But it could be done. I think I will try it out in the current novel. I wonder if there are persona/trademark issues. Can you copyright the voices in our heads?

The photo above is of me standing inside the frame of the teepee we built during our recent trip to the Park taken by my niece Jenn.


Anonymous said...

By gosh! It worked. Just that small suggestion and I heard James Earl Jones (actually, more like Darth Vader) speaking those words. But then I also hear Cheap Trick singing "voices in my head" whenever I look at the title to this blog post. Make it stop!

BTW, your niece takes a very nice photograph. Is it an original black and white, or converted from color? The lights and darks really pop.


David Marusek said...

Thanks, Renelle. My niece took the photo on her smart phone that has built-in photo effects including b&w, sepia, and pinhole, among others. As you noticed, the b&w setting has well-balanced levels that you would not get if you simply turned a color shot into b&w. I followed a Photoshop tutorial once on how to convert color to b&w and it's not as easy as one might think.