Have you ever heard a favorite nonfiction author speak on an audiobook or podcast, only to be surprised by the way they sound?
“That’s what Mary Roach sounds like? Heh. Not what I expected.”
Why would you have any expectations for their voice?
Perhaps it’s because you hear their voice in your head as you read. When the voice you create doesn’t match the real one, it surprises you.
“I hear authors…”
If you “hear” voices in your head as you read silently, you’re not alone.
According to a study by a psychology professor Ruvanee Vilhauer, then at NYU, as many as 80 percent of us might listen to voices in our head as we read. (Alas, the study appeared in the journal Psychosis. I repeat, though, it’s normal.)
Vilhauer referred to this as an “inner reading voice.” Sometimes that voice belongs to us (the reader). Or, we may assign a voice with recognizable gender, emotion, and timbre.
(If you read older works, you can whisper to your family “I hear dead people.” This only works if they have seen the movie The Sixth Sense.)
When I examine my experience, my inner reading voice is inconsistent and subtle. It appears more often if the author (or narrator) is present in the text, addressing me directly. And, I hear the writer’s actual voice if I have heard them speak or know them personally.
What does this mean for you as a writer?
Writing “voice” is not just a metaphor—sometimes it’s literal. The words you put on the page may translate into an inner voice in the reader’s head, which may or may not represent your actual speaking voice.
Even if you’re not planning to release an audiobook, you’re writing for a listening ear.
So, pay attention to the way the words sound.
Read your work aloud.
Every writing coach recommends this. It’s a great way to find typos, sure. But it also helps us understand what the reader may really hear in their head.
Words that are hard to pronounce or convoluted sentences may trip up that inner reading voice. Add too many, and you can seriously degrade the reader’s inner listening experience.
Interested in exploring more?
Find the study on Inner Reading Voice here.