My most fun character voice challenge yet.
I just started work recording a delightful YA story which is proving to be my biggest and also most fun character voice challenge yet. The plot involves two 16 year old girls, one who lives in Texas in 2020 and the other a British girl living in a colony in South Africa in 1820. Out of the blue they find themselves switching bodies, the mind of each showing up in the body of the other, and then switching back, every month. The story is told in alternating first person narrative, one chapter for each girl.
When they switch, the mind - and accent - of one girl finds itself in the body - and with the voice - of the other. So I have to give them distinct voices, and then maintain the accent and character affect of each in both the voices, depending on which body the mind happens to be in for a given chapter. Talk about head spinning!
Aside from the accents (which make things a little easier, by lending an easily identifiable aspect to each girl's speech), I find my best tool in Chinese medicine. You see, besides narrating audiobooks, I'm a student of classical Five Elements acupuncture. This medicine is based in an understanding that the five elements - Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water - each show up in us to varying degrees and that one predominates in every person, as a sort of lens through which we view the world. Our primary element manifests, among other ways, in our voice. For instance, a Fire person will speak with a large range in their voice, sparking high and then banking low, sometimes crackling, and as if they're often about to laugh; a Wood person will usually have an assertive way of enunciating, crisply delineating each word; and so forth. So when I read, I assign each character an element and bring the sound and energetic of that element into their speech.
In this case, the 2020 girl is a Wood. She's bold, she's assertive, she speaks definitively. So when she's in the other body, all that is still there (along with her American accent), but she has the high voice of the other girl. The 1820 girl, I've decided, is a Metal, characterised by a thin, high voice, like there's not enough lung Qi, and a sort of fragile and stiff way of speaking. When she comes to the other body, she's still got that fragility and stiffness (and British RP accent), but now in a deeper, richer voice.
So far I'm finding this quite the challenge to execute. When the 1820 girl speaks, my voice wants to keep creeping up into that higher range, so there are lots of retakes. But it's such a great challenge, forcing me to be aware of and separate these different aspects of voice - accent, pitch, enunciation, force, level of confidence. I'm sure to come out the other end a better narrator!
PS Sorry about the pixelated image - it's the only one I have for this book yet.