Whose voice do you hear when you read?

When you read, do you hear the words in your head? And if you do, whose voice do you hear?

For me, the voice I hear is fairly nondescript, a bit like the one I hear when I talk. To me, it has no accent and no distinguishing features. But sometimes, another voice takes over.

Most of the time this is because of films. When I re-read Fight Club after seeing the film, I could hear Ed Norton narrating it (and I could also picture him, Brad Pitt and the rest of the cast‌—‌great book, great film). When I read Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy I hear the voices from the original radio show in the dialogue, and Peter Jones (who played ‘the book’ in both radio and TV versions) for the rest. Even in the later books, it is Peter Jones’ voice that is reading the words to me.

This makes sense. If the film (TV show/radio show/whatever) is done well and complements the book, they almost merge to become one thing. If they are different, or if they don’t connect so much in my mind, then I revert to my generic voice. So, when I read Daphne du Maurier’s story The Birds, it is so different to the Hitchcock film that there is no cross-over. Similarly, although there have been some TV adaptations of Terry Pratchet’s books, they haven’t been as good as the books, so I don’t automatically connect them in the same way.

Most of the time, the voice-from-the-film effect works well for me. But sometimes, hearing different voices can be a distraction.

group-1825503_1280I’m a fan of the Sterling & Stone guys‌—‌Sean Platt, Johnny B Truant and David Wright. Not all of their books work perfectly for me, but they’re never afraid to try something different, and their books are always work reading. And when they’re good, they’re fantastic. Yesterday’s Gone, overall, was wonderful. Crash was a gem of a book. I love Unicorn Western, and The Beam is constantly intriguing. And their Tomorrow’s Gene trilogy is a current favourite of mine.

They also produce a weekly podcasts. Although they generally stick to the topic in these shows, there is a natural banter between them that often takes them off in other directions. They’ve even taken this off-topic stuff into its own show (Worst Show Ever).

They’ve been doing this for years, and I think I’ve listened to just about everything they’ve done. I’ve had their voices in my ears for hours and hours.

Maybe this isn’t too healthy.

Their written work reflects the way they speak. They’ve even done readings of a couple of their books. And now, when I read anything they’ve written, I hear it in their voices.

For their non-fiction, like Iterate And Optimize, this makes sense. These books are supposed to teach me things, after all, and they are the teachers. Rather than their non-fiction being lists of instructions, it becomes personal advice. In The One With All The Advice (where they pull writing advice from different episodes of Friends), it adds a great deal to my enjoyment of the book.

But this also happens in their fiction. This started becoming obvious to me in the last few books in their Invasion series, and has carried on with everything they’ve written since that. Even with Dead City, which they first released in audio format as a separate podcast, narrated by Scott Brick—‌when I read the book, I still heard their voices.

Mainly Sean’s. Probably because he talks most on their podcasts, and he’s involved in just about every book they produce.

I’m starting to find this distracting. Maybe that’s because I’m noticing it more often.

Some people might suggest this is a problem with their writing, but it is clear that they are improving in their craft all the time (their latest ‘literary’ novel, Devil May Care, might not be a total success, but it contains some of the finest writing they’ve done to date).

It’s often said that the writer should be invisible, and that the story (and the characters) should be everything. But every writer has their own voice, which becomes more identifiable as they progress in their writing journey. Unless they are specifically trying to write like someone else, their books will all be ‘theirs’. And if, as a reader, you identify with their voice strongly, it is natural that you will hear the story being read to you in their voice.

Which, ultimately, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We often choose books because we enjoy a particular writer’s work, and that usually means their voice resonates with us in some way. With the rise of podcasts and videos, writers are becoming more accessible‌—‌we don’t have to wait for a book-signing to see or hear our favourite authors any more. The connection between the writer and their work is more apparent than it ever has been.

So I guess I’m looking forward to having Johnny, Sean or Dave reading their next book in my head.

As I’m writing this, I’m wondering something else‌—‌whose voice are you hearing right now? I doubt it’s mine (because only a few of you will have heard me speak). Is it your own internal voice, or some kind of ‘generic blog post’ voice? I’m British, but if you’re from somewhere else, do you hear it with an English accent or your own, or is it some kind of mid-Atlantic thing? If you’re British, does this read with a northern or southern accent, or a hint of west-country? Has that voice changed over the last few sentences?

And how much of this has pulled you away from the words as you try to listen to the voice in your head? Have I messed up your reading?

Maybe listening to the voices in your head isn’t such a great idea.

4 thoughts on “Whose voice do you hear when you read?

  1. Hello! First-time reader of your blog here! I find this an intriguing concept, because I’ve never had a voice in my head, speaking the text to me. But it’s easily understandable, with all the audiobooks, podcasts, and films on offer – and because, even if we’re primarily visual creatures, we’re pretty aural too!

    One interesting anecdote about a writer’s standout voice: Recently, my clique did a writing exercise where we worked as a group, with three people taking turns in advancing a story. After a while, our ‘voices’ started to mingle, so that while there were echoes of our individual styles, the text as a whole became quite homogeneous. And this homogeneity was never a conscious choice! It has led me to consider if a writer’s voice might change as time goes on – not just become more ‘polished’ or whatever, but alter, become different. Just like our actual speaking voices alter and change. And bodies. And minds.

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    • That’s interesting about your writing exercise. And I’d imagine a writer’s voice does change, just like a musician’s style changes, however subtly, as they play more.
      Also reminds me of a Scottish colleague who spoke in a kind of south-England accent most of the time, but the moment she met someone else from Scotland, her accent unconsciously changed to very broad Scots. I guess it’s something to do with the subconscious influence of those around us.

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  2. Intriguing. I’ve always had a pretty generic voice in my head when I read, neither posh nor common, north or south. I’ve tried to think in the accent of the character before and it’s always gone horribly wrong and irritated me too much so I stopped. The only characters that I can think of that tend to talk in specific voices when I read are the older witches in the Discworld series, Nanny Ogg has a very definite voice in my head as I read her!
    Oh and no I don’t hear your actual voice when I read your blog/stories, I think there’s too much disconnection between this medium and you in person to link the two together in my mind.

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