• S.E. Burr

Best Heard in Silence: Spoken Voice vs. Written Voice

"She was one of those women cursed with a little girl's voice. When she was fifty, she'd still sound like she was thirteen." --Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs. The book is fantastic, a surprisingly powerful novel in a series I'd never thought of as serious fiction, but that line irritates me. "Cursed." She's describing a minor character. Of course, she is. If you are aware of any books in which the protagonist is a woman with a child's voice, please let me know what they are. I've never read one and a Google search turned up squat. I'm reluctant to write a protagonist like that. She wouldn't be taken seriously and people would find the audio book and (fingers crossed) movie really annoying.

I have a childlike voice. If you'd like to hear a sample, you can click here to watch this video Shad and I did for our Kickstarter Campaign (fully funded, by the way. The book will be out in less than two months, so, thank you.)

It seems to me that most people don't like to hear recordings of their own voice. It doesn't sound the way it does in their heads; it's unfamiliar, and they don't like it. But in my experience, most people's voices are completely average, nothing notable about them. What is it like to have a voice that neither adds nor detracts from the power of the words you're speaking? Or what is it like to have a voice that makes whatever you're saying, no matter how stupid, sound reasonable or even wise? I have no idea.

I don't think I would call my voice a curse. It has its pluses and minuses. Certainly, some people find it annoying. In the eighth grade, a "friend" told me she hated my voice, which even for a child was higher than average, and as a remedy she suggested I practice talking with marbles in my mouth. If I could speak with a mouth full of marbles, I would certainly be able to speak better without them. I'm lucky to be alive. Don't put marbles in your mouths, kids. They are classic choking hazards.

That's not the last time someone suggested I try to change my voice. When I've expressed frustration over feeling like people don't respect what I have to say or don't take me seriously, well-meaning friends have suggested I try voice training. It would be difficult to intentionally speak a different way--probably marginally lower--and to remember to speak that way every single time I said anything for months. The idea is that eventually it would become a habit, and for the rest of my life I'd speak in a different, if manufactured, way (except when I got upset or frightened, at which point my voice would revert to its natural, shrill form.)

I have looked into voice training a few times, but at this point in my life, it seems too late. I've learned to interact with the world through this voice. My personality, the way I relate to people, the way they relate to me, is all shaped, at least in part, by my voice. I think, in general, my voice adds to my likeability; it makes me cuter, and people find me utterly non-threatening. In a lot of ways, I come at the world expecting people to humor me in much the way they would a precocious child. My relationship with almost every boss I've ever had has followed a specific pattern. I've been the sweet, but silly, nerdy kid, mostly hardworking but a little ridiculous, and they've been the kind but firm parental figure. This type of relationship hasn't lead to a lot of promotions, but I think it's helped with job security. They like me; they care about me; I don't cause trouble; I'm nice. Try to say something truly rotten to someone in a voice like mine; it sounds ridiculous. It sounds so weird that it makes you want to gag.

Think about the voice that speaks silently inside your mind. Think about that constant stream of words. What does that voice sound like? I've been thinking about this. I would say that the only clues about what kind of person the voice in my head is come from the words she speaks. There are no "timbre" clues at all. She is a "she," a little feminine, but not nearly to the degree that my spoken voice implies. She seems, at least to me, a bit smart, a bit nerdy, but overly full of herself, prone to thinking she's right and ignoring other perspectives. She's at turns kinder and far more cruel than my spoken voice would ever own up to. She's an authoritative voice. She speaks and I can't help but listen. (We all know how challenging it is to ignore the voice in our own heads.) Sometimes I hate her, but most of the time I like her. She has lots of things to say and I want her to be able to speak to others, not just me. That's why I write. In written word, that silent voice can speak out loud without being filtered through the mixture of anatomy and hormones that forces me to portray myself in a way that I don't think is completely accurate. In silent words, she can be heard.

(If you are interested in checking out some of my fiction writing you can get Goblin Fruit, the first book in my "Gobbled" series free on Amazon or Elsewhere.)

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