Anyone who closely followed the RU lectures last fall will recognize today’s guest. Cris Dukehart is a talented voiceover artist, but she’s also funny as all get-out and a super-nice gal. I told her if the voiceover gig didn’t work out for some reason that I thought she had a future as a writer. Today, she’s going to share with us what’s she’s recently learned about how a unique character voice can make or break the audiobook experience for the listener. Cris, along with the fab folks at Tantor Media, has also generously offered to give away a CD set of Shiloh Walker’s If You Hear Her, the first in Walker’s romantic suspense Ash Trilogy. Yay!
Welcome back to RU, Cris!
Cris Dukehart here… audiobook gal.
Before we begin, I really must apologize; I fear that I may be a bit rough around the edges…
For some time, you see, I have been recording Shiloh Walker’s Ash Trilogy, three gripping romantic suspense audiobooks released by the marvelous folks over at Tantor Media and, now, four weeks later, I smell suspiciously of the green apple slices I use to de-goop my mouth, Throat Coat tea and Chapstick. My head is wrapped unceremoniously in a bandana and I am rather concerned that my favorite mismatched socks, (one gray and white stripedy and one lime green and white polka dot, both, you will be pleased to hear, with happy hot pink toes and heels) have been on my feet so long that, once removed, they might run away from me of their own accord never to be seen again.
I am a vision… and absolute vision!
More disturbing than this, however, is that for at least part of the last four weeks, I have lived inside the head of a serial killer. I have hunted young girls, their futures bright with promise, and I have brought them down in their prime. I have played horrible, frightening games of cat and mouse, committed shocking acts of brutality, and I have done it all with an almost pleasant ambivalence.
I have lent my voice to a monster.
The concept of “voice” is a tricky thing. It’s a chameleon among words, isn’t it?
It can mean the power of speech, an expression, an utterance or vocalization.
Merriam Webster suggests that a voice is also an opinion or a view, a vote or role, or even a mouthpiece or a champion.
Wikipedia defines an author’s voice… your voice… as “the literary term used to describe the individual writing style of an author”. It goes on to say that an author’s voice is “generally considered to be a combination of a writer’s use of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works).” There are whole books devoted to this sort of voice; websites dedicated to it. It’s a good thing to have apparently, a distinct author’s voice. You may even have attended seminars and conferences on finding and developing yours.
But what if… for argument’s sake, they are all one and the same?
Every author has their own voice, by definition, a way of utilizing syntax and diction and punctuation. But what happens when those words, that syntax and diction and punctuation are vocalized? E.E. Cummings, for instance, was known for scattering words all over a page with little notice it seemed, to punctuation or capitalization. In fact, some of his work appeared, at first glance, to make little sense… little sense, that is, until it was read out loud. Mark Twain and Charles Dickens used dialect to such an extent that unless it is read aloud, it is often difficult to recognize the near phonetic spellings found within their dialog passages as English at all.
Now, I don’t know much about anything of importance, but it seems to me that when a book changes points of view within the story, the voice alters as well. Though it may do so subtly, I’ve found that particularly in dialog, but also in description of scene and people, characters seem to use the author’s language in their own unique ways.
Because the point of view in Shiloh Walker’s Ash Trilogy changes, even within chapters, it seemed of particular importance to discern the different character’s voices. Ms. Walker, (a spunky lass with a Kentucky twang of her own), was invaluable in this task. She told me things about each character that had little, it would seem, to do with how they actually SOUND, but that mattered a great deal to how they were HEARD.
This was never more important than in zeroing in on the voice of the killer.
Within the text of the first book, “If You Hear Her”, we learn that the killer has a slow, deep, almost patient drawl. We read that he is amused with his games, that he feels a sort of affection for his victims. And that, for the most part, is the extent of his vocal description.
Enter Shiloh Walker.
From the first, Ms. Walker was clear… the killer’s parts should be read “without emotion”… he “is a monster”. (It is only fair to report here, that only the first book was made available to me when I began recording. I finished it a few days before speaking with Shiloh. I was able, using AMAZING feats of restraint and prudence, to refrain for nearly 5 whole minutes into the conversation, from positively BEGGING her to tell me who the killer was. In my defense *indignant sniff*, it was for entirely professional reasons that I needed to know.)
We then had the fun task of deciding who would be the vocal red herrings. Who amongst the other characters, exhibited enough similarities in habit and personality to the killer to share vocal characteristics with him… we needed to be able to auditorily mislead the listener, just as they were mislead in the text.
Which takes me back to lending my voice to a monster.
Recording his parts with “no emotion” took on its own life… a flippant, bored, slightly pleased and entertained sound… a sound that over the course of the three books, began to reveal a cruelty and disdain for human life and a disturbing apathy that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
I developed a disturbing tendency, while recording his parts, to raise one hand in caress of a cold cheek or a flippant gesture… to mimic an indifferent half lidded stare.
Leaving my studio late one night, I walked casually through the inky black. (This wouldn’t be of note at all except for the fact that I have, since childhood, had a wild fear of the dark. I was (and still am) the gal who flees one lit space for another, dashing willy-nilly through the dark. I have even been known to outrun my children in my flight, leaving their small selves to the mercy of the boogyman!) This particular evening, however, despite the unlit night, there was no sign of my usual dash from lighted interior, through scary monster-laden dark, to the car.
“How curious.” I puzzled. “What is THIS?”
For some time, as I drove, I pondered this new and unusual ennui for the dark until it occurred to me quite suddenly that there was a very simple reason why I wasn’t afraid of the monsters. I wasn’t afraid because somewhere in my mind, I was the monster… I had indentified with the boogyman.
And while that scared me enough that I stopped on my way home and bought a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia, it did occur to me that just maybe I had found the killer’s voice. That perhaps in finding his voice, his story, Shiloh Walker’s story would do what we all want a good story to do… to transport us into the world of the book… into the world of the author.
In Shiloh Walker’s syntax, her diction, her development of character and use of punctuation…
In the casually apathetic vocalizations of horrors…
In analyzing the killer’s role… not just how he sounds, but how he is heard by others… In this, I hope, we find a monster… and in voice we most certainly find a champion.
RU Crew, have you ever listened to a book where the villain was given away (or well-concealed) by the narrator? Also, feel free to ask Cris questions about voiceover or how she purged Shiloh’s monster from her body. Don’t forget Cris and Tantor Media have generously offered to give away a CD set of Shiloh Walker’s If You Hear Her, the first in Walker’s romantic suspense Ash Trilogy.
Don’t miss Friday’s lecture when editor Gina Bernal will return to teach us more about line editing!
An award-winning storyteller and a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, Cris Dukehart has narrated books across genres, from romance, science fiction, and young adult to children’s literature, non-fiction and autobiography. Her voice can be heard around the world and across the Web.
You can read more about her misadventures on her blog: www.crisdukehart.blogspot.com.
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for May 4 – 11, 2012 – C.J. Redwine, Cris Dukehart & Gina Bernal
- Voiceover Artist Cris Dukehart on Recording Audiobooks: Tales from the Padded Room
- Listen Up! Romance Audio Books Increase Author Profits with Jennifer Fedderson
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for October 31 – November 4, 2011
- Voice vs. Style