Voice Friday: Word Sounds

Voice Friday: Word Choices
Voice Friday: Word Connotations
Voice Friday: Word Sounds

One last posting on how words affect voice–though these thoughts on words will echo throughout any discussion of voice.

Newbery winner, Paul Fleischman says, “. . . the sounds of the words on the page, I would like to argue, are as worthy of a writer?s attention as their sense.” See “My House of Voices” on his website.

Children love to play with the sounds of words. Fleischman says, “I?m sure most of us remember as children repeating a phrase over and over as quickly as possible, feeling the words shedding their sense and becoming a collection of vowels and consonants.”

Rhyming, alliteration, consonance–any technique that can highlight the sounds of words, emphasize how they feel in the mouth when you make them, will enhance the reading experience. Fleischman used to listen to short wave radio and tune into Arabic, Japanese or Russian languages, “all unintelligible to me, sounds without sense, verbal music.” Australian author, Mem Fox says writers should plan for “strange and unexpected use of language.”

First some basic phonics

Vowels can be divided into categories based on where the tongue is placed in the mouth and how tight or loose the whole mouth structure becomes when you say the vowel.


High Range–More Energy (high tongue, front of mouth, tight)
Long e Tree
Short i Sit
Long a Play

Middle Range
Long i Bright
Short e Hen
Short a
Cat Oi or oy
Toy Ow

Low Range–Less Energy (low tongue, back of mouth, relaxed)
Ah Far
Aw Bought
Long o Bone
Short oo
Long oo

Dipthongs are vowels which combine more than one sound:
ow–combines short o with short oo bow
oi–combines long o with long e boy
Long u–y sound with long oo


Consonants can be divided into categories based on mouth structure and how the air moves through the mouth.
hard: b, d, k, p, q, t, hard c, hard g, z, ch, j
soft: l, m, n, r, w
Sibilant (hissing sound): s, z, th, sh, zh, ch, f, v
Stopping sounds: b, p, m, n, d, t
Nasal: n, m, ng
Liquid: l, r, w

Using phonics (sounds) to reinforce the tone/mood/meaning of the story

  • Use the sounds of words to reinforce or contrast the tone/mood/meaning of a story.
    Vowels: For a lullaby, try to keep as many of the vowels relaxed as possible.
    For action scenes, try for high front vowels.
    Consonants: Do you want the story to be angry? Use hard or nasal or sibilant consonants and high range vowels. Do you want the story soothing? Use soft or liquid consonants and low range vowels Do you want the story irritating? Use nasal or sibilant sounds.
  • Use the sound of the names of characters to reinforce or contrast character qualities. Antique sounding words Foreign imports Surnames Meaning Names The Kay-lees and Shay-lees: vigorous start, long, bright vowels, and smooth endings Folktale-like names Character qualities as names?overdone in fantasy, allegory
  • Use the sounds of words for emphasis or stress. Emphasis or stress: The greatest stress in a sentence is on the ending syllable, and the second greatest is on the beginning. Put important information/words/phrases in these two positions. The greatest stress is to end a sentence with single syllable word that ends in hard consonant. Example: When John Hercules Po started kindergarten in Room 9B, it was an odd class. There were nineteen girls and one boy, John Hercules. What is the most important word in that first sentence? Odd. It also happens to be a single-syllable word which ends in a hard consonant. See what happens when you move that word to the end of the sentence. Rewritten for emphasis: The kindergarten class in 9B was odd. ?Nineteen girls,? said John Hercules, ?and me.? Think about the last word of the story (or the last word of each section of the story/page): Do you want the door to slam shut on the story? Use a single syllable word ends in hard consonant Do you want the story to linger? Use a nasal or soft consonants. Hum.

These are just hints about the importance of the phonics of words as they impact voice. Word choices do make a difference in voice:

Voice Friday: Word Choices
Voice Friday: Word Connotations
Voice Friday: Word Sounds

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