Sunday, February 10, 2008

Vocal Qualities and Characterization

How a character sounds arouses preconceived notions for readers. In movies, if you hear a young woman with a voice like Betty Boop with her high-pitched childlike voice, it establishes characterization, though in this case not necessarily positive. Soft sultry qualities or gentle dulcet tones creates a totally different picture of the same girl. She turns from a caricature to a provocative sexual being to a lovely young woman.

Giving a man a high-pitched voice can undo a hero. Stories are told that when Rudolph Valentino. silent romantic film star, was to make “talkie” movies, they couldn’t use his voice because it didn’t fit his characterization. Commercials are known for over-voicing actors to enhance the product by using a particular voice-type. Your character’s voices are important.

Vocal qualities can change with emotion. The dulcet tone a young woman can turn into a screech when she’s in fear or furious at someone, and the contrast leaves the reader with no question as to the emotion inside the character. Vocal descriptions should not be overdone, but once established, they can be a signal to a new mood or emotion arising. A telephone call from a man who’s deep voice normally flows in conversation to a faltering dialogue can help the person at the other end of the line realize something is not right.

Vocal qualities vary from person to person and sometimes, the person’s size or demeanor doesn’t match the tone that escapes. Like mannerisms, vocal qualities should not be overstated. Use it once, perhaps repeat as a comparison—his usual deep baritone inflected to tenor—and then only use the description again when it has a purpose that provides new or important information for the reader, such as showing fear, uncertainty, anger or romantic feelings. Words that help to reflect qualities are, for example: baritone, dulcet, rough, raspy, sweet, sing-song, honeyed, strident, flowing, scathing, venomous, bitter, high-pitched, and gravely.

Some descriptive words carry a connotative meaning. For example her honey-eyed words could lead us to believe her words are insincere. His glib comment might cause another character to question his sincerity. When you add words descriptors such as: he hissed or she barked, you add more information about the attitude of the speaker.

Voice, mannerisms, attire, physical description, goals, motivation and emotion all go into creating a character who becomes three-dimensional to the reader. Study the people around you, and notice these things. Take notes. Observe and listen. You’ll soon realize that even people you know well are mysteries in many ways. We can’t know what’s going on in their minds and hearts. We can only observe and see their actions and behaviors. In fiction we learn about people through point of view, more commonly called POV. This technique in writing is one of the most difficult to master. I’ll tackle that soon, but first let’s talk about body action and what it means.

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