It’s well known that reading to your kids has many benefits: It builds attachment, it helps your kids with their development of speech and language, it gets them interested in reading at an earlier age, it encourages focus and discipline…you know all this.
I discovered another benefit that isn’t widely talked about in child development circles. It turns out it’s good for me as a voiceover artist.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the merits of taking the occasional stroll outside your predefined VO style. For me, that means entertaining a script that calls for something other than a youngish, conversational narrator or character.
The thing is, it’s pretty easy for me to practice what lands in my niche. Sometimes when I’m reading a document out loud to a colleague at work, or when I’m relating a story to someone on the phone, I find myself taking on a particular rhythm or cadence that I know I’ll probably hear again the next time I’m in front of a microphone. (I like to imagine the same thing happens to Ira Glass.) On the other hand, there aren’t a whole lot of opportunities in my day for me to practice a variety of unusual characters or VO styles — at least not away from the microphone. I mean, my coworkers understand that I have my occasional quirk, and they’re OK with that. But if I started talking to them like Bobcat Goldthwait or laughing like SpongeBob*, I think they’d stop being OK with that.
When I read to my kids, though, it’s not only acceptable to take outrageous vocal affectations, it’s expected. For one thing, you have to use different voices to keep the different characters separate. And finding the right voice to match each character’s personality is a must. But beyond that, a really creative story deserves some vocal color. When a Siamese cat transforms into a Chihuahua and travels through space where he encounters cycloptic, green martians, you just can’t get away with reading it like you’re the local host of All Things Considered**. And how can you adequately express the exasperation of a pigeon who is denied his only wish to drive a bus without throwing your whole self into the read?
As a happy side effect, I’ve found myself becoming a better reader of my more traditional narration scripts after spending some time reading stories to my kids. I guess reading out loud is reading out loud, to an extent. Any chance to read to an audience gives me a chance to pay attention to pacing, emphasis, emotion, and volume, and how all of these things can influence the meaning of a script. Even when that audience is a child, and the script is about a girl turning bright pink all over after eating too many cupcakes.
*As it turns out, I’m pretty good at imitations of both. This probably only serves to strengthen the point.
**No offense intended to any and all local hosts of All Things Considered. Just not their niche, knowhatImsayin’?