Is that too much to ask?
‘Not at all,’ I hear you say. ‘As a matter of fact, I feel the same way my own self.’
I know, right? So why do so many books miss the mark?
I imagine there are at least as many answers to that question as there are readers. For me, though, whenever I put down a book that didn’t quite leave me satisfied, I can pretty much guarantee that, whatever else it did or didn’t have, one thing was missing, the voices in my head.
Now before you back away, smiling that nervous smile, let me elaborate. I’m not talking about the shrill ‘Eat all the pigeons!’ type of voice (I usually ignore those), I’m talking about the voices belonging to characters in the story.
Writers don’t just paint pictures with words. Sound effects aren’t the only things a reader ‘hears’ when he/she turns the pages. No sir, there's more, a lot more. A well-written character gets inside your head. You can hear a distinct voice in your head when you read his/her dialogue. Don’t believe me? Try reading the novelization of any movie you’ve seen a lot and you'll see what I mean.
Why is this important? I think it’s because when we don’t hear a character’s voice, it means something’s missing – though exactly what that may be I don’t know. Maybe the dialogue doesn’t fit. Maybe we don’t yet know enough about him/her. Whatever it is, something isn't working.
I’ve been listening to the excellent Harry Potter books on CD (I’m currently waiting for the fifth one). Here in the USA, British actor, Jim Dale, does the readings. He does a great job. So good, in fact, he won an award for it in 2000. Well done, Jim, I say, but he had help. Sure, J. K. Rowling did a fantastic job on world-building. She also invented some incredible, delightful characters, complete with interesting quirks and delightful personality traits (you have to love those Dursleys), but for me, more than anything else, she gave them all such distinct voices it’s impossible not to hear them inside your head when you read. So much so, that I had a hard time adjusting to the voices of some of the actors who later portrayed them on screen.
Dean Koontz has a character, Odd Thomas. Odd’s voice comes through loud and clear when I read his dialogue. Terry Pratchett’s characters in the Guards and Witches books have voices that rattle around your head. It makes all the difference.
Of course, writing someone’s voice that well is a whole different egg to peel, as my old gran used to say. When I read my WiP’s aloud, if the dialogue doesn’t roll off the tongue, I know it needs changing, and when I read in silence, if I don’t ‘hear’ the character talking, I know the voice isn’t quite there, but I've yet to figure out the magic formula for fixing the problem. It either sounds right or it doesn't.
How about you?
When you read, do you hear voices in your head?