Monday, July 17, 2006VOICE
I gots voice, you gots voice. All God's chilluns gots voice.
Sweet, snarky, wistful, despairing. Soprano, contralto, tenor, baritone. All good voices. They all have their uses. But to come to their full potential, they have to be trained.
A decent singer with an untrained voice can carry a tune pretty well. Not much range, not much depth, but they're still on key. Not horrible to listen to, but probably fairly forgettable.
A singer with a trained voice, however, is captivating. Mesmerizing. From the glorious highs to the very depths of sound, a singer with a highly trained voice is an instrument of beauty.
When I took voice lessons, it was amazing to notice how -- within weeks -- my voice went from merely pleasant to capable of holding an audience. Not by sheer volume, which I have in spades, but by a newly learned ability to control it. Make it do what I wanted. I'm a straight contralto with a low break. That means that my voice breaks into a different tone, almost like a falsetto, at around middle C -- quite low for a woman. In fact, I can sing lower than a few male tenors I know. But that's not the point. The point is that, with training, my break was breached. I hit a solid E before breaking. And when I did, I was able to sail over the break without it being obvious. I learned to control my breathing, I learned techniques that gave my voice, well, a voice. Character, quirks, a unique tone to fit whatever I was singing.
I used that same training when I acted or competed in speech tournaments. The tournaments are some of the most useful acting I've ever done, as far as training goes. See, there are no costumes, no props, and no movement. It's all done with the voice. I played an Ophelia so creepy, I watched judges shudder. I think I turned a few of them on. *nudge wink* Even got a comment once that I had a voice suited to the silver screen. That's one of my favorite compliments ever.
Now let's take this metaphor and make it useful on paper.
An untrained writer with any smattering of skill can tell a story. First this happened, then this, then this. It may even be an exciting story with a clever conclusion.
But train that voice? And you've got Susan Elisabeth Phillips. Jenny Cruisie. Laura Kinsale. You've got people who can move readers to tears, to laughter, to rage and to grief.
It seems, however, that training a writing voice may be more difficult than training a physical one. For one thing, we're far more stubborn on paper. While we may admit that our physical voice could do with some smoothing over, when it comes to writing we say, "No, no. We like our voice the way it is."
It takes a tough teacher to say, "But you're weak here." There aren't many tough teachers in romance, I think. We're frequently over concerned with how the student will react. And the sad fact is, most students aren't ready for the tough teachers. But that's a post for a different day.
Once we get past that initial, "But what's wrong with the way I sound?" we can be molded. We're willing to go up the scale and finally hear that ear-shattering screech for what it really is.
Then, how do you fix it? By going back to the basics. And I mean basics. Learning how to stand, how to breathe, how to shape your mouth to get the right sounds.
Once you've crossed that hurdle, it's a combination of practice, practice, practice and listen, listen, listen.
This post got really long, so we'll talk Practicing and Listening tomorrow.