Finding Your Voice (no, not that voice, the other voice)

Two weeks ago, sitting in Mary Robinette Kowal’s “how to give a reading” seminar at Illogicon*, we discovered that I don’t hum.

No, really. She asked us to do a voice exercise that involving humming up and down your range, to expand it, and I… couldn’t. It was such a strange, unfamiliar request, that the more I tried the more self-conscious I became, and the more impossible the exercise was to do. Which was a shame, and frustrating.  But I’d long ago resigned myself to a relatively limited vocal range, so – whatever.

A little while later in the seminar, we learned that Mary can’t roll her Rs. This, I can do, easily as eating potato chips (Rrrrrrufles have rrrrrridges. Enrrrrrrique loves his motherrrrrrr.) And – possibly showing off a little– I trilled my Rs. Because trilling is another thing I can do.

“Do that,” Mary said.
“Instead of humming. Trill.”

Yeah, right. But I promised to try.

Fast-forward two weeks, to this morning. I’ve been doing the trilling exercises mostly every day – much to the bemusement and fascination of the cats – and just for the hell of it, tried to speak in a lower than normal voice while I was reading the WiP.

And what came out was a lovely tenor-ish growl (compared to my usual light alto**).

So I went for broke, and tried to speak higher, for another character. And managed a non-cracking falsetto without sounding like an idiot. For about a sentence or two, anyway.

So, okay. It’s possible that anything is possible. :-)


So, amusement factor aside, this may change how I read, but is it  changing how I write?  No.  And…maybe, yes.

While you don’t have to use every tool in your toolbox when creating (and in fact, sometimes half of craft is knowing when NOT to use a tool), having options allows you to think of, sort through, and determine the best tool to use, rather than just defaulting to the one that’s most comfortable in your hand.

How I’d read a character isn’t the same as how I write them – our internal dialogue and the narrative text serve different needs from spoken dialogue, and the WHO of a character is not predicated on the tenor of their voice so much as their speech patterns. And yet, as I work on the current manuscript, the POV slips between characters – the younger woman, the older male, the character-of-fluid-self, the character who is never quite what you think – and while I’m not always letting my voice slip when I read their dialogue to myself, some part of my brain is now thinking how I could. And that fact alone informs the writing.

*if you ever have a chance to sit in on one of her seminars, do it.  Even if the only public speaking you do is in office or classroom meetings.
**I have a suspicion I’d actually be a mezzo-soprano, but until such a time as a professional comments, I’ll stick with where I was stashed in middle-school chorus.

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