I attended my first voiceover meeting this year (someday I’d love to do commercials or be the voice for an animated movie) and met Susan Bennett, the voice of Siri. I thought, as did the rest of the audience, that Susan recorded the actual phrases used by Siri. But she didn’t. [She didn’t even do the recordings for Apple.] Siri’s language came about through a process called text-to-speech. Susan recorded thousands of phrases, then software engineers isolated the sounds that made up the words and put them back together in varying ways. That stringing together of sounds is concatenation.
You might have noticed that Siri sounds slightly robotic. She delivers her words with an even timbre (pitch). She’s not emotional. But people are. You are. Even when you say a simple phrase like “I’m fine,” the pitch of those two words varies. Your voice might go down or up depending on how you really feel.
Voice is just as important when you read. Your husband’s “See you later, honey,” as he leaves for work comes to mind when you read that phrase in a book. Your daughter’s laugh, your mother’s cry of delight, your brother’s snort, or your childhood friend’s wacky giggle all come through various authors’ stories. The sounds are imprinted in your brain and are there for reference.
Words also have rhythm (fast or slow), cadence (rise or fall), and accent (which ones are stressed). These turn statements into questions, shyness into bravery, calm into crescendo. They also determine whether your phrasing is clunky or easy to read. Look at these two sentences:
Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream.
Row, row, row your boat, gently down the river.
The first “sounds” better because the first phrase (row, row, row your boat) has 5 syllables, as does the second phrase (gently down the stream). In the second example, the first phrase has 5 syllables but the second phrase has 6.
Here’s another example:
I help women create heartfelt messages and put their passion into words.
I help women write from the heart and put their passion into words.
The two statements say the same thing. But which one is easier to read? Answer: the second one. Part of the reason is that the second sentence is shorter. The other part is that the two phrases have the same number of syllables.
If you’re a songwriter, you have experience with rhythm and cadence and accent. You’re used to counting syllables and getting words to rhyme. If you’re not a songwriter, don’t despair. Just start listening. Pay attention when you read. Sound out the words. Feel their rhythm. Not every sentence will follow this pattern. And you don’t want them to. Variation helps the reader stay intrigued. But notice when the phrases are in rhythm and how pleasing that is. Then apply those patterns to your own writing.
So tell me, how does it sound?
Photo by patrimonio designs, PhotoXpress.com