Speaking to the Truth

In the modern era, society has found itself dissatisfied with the plain text that comes from reading a book. For just a few dollars, one can enjoy nearly any story of their choice as an audiobook, or even as a movie. In both cases, there is one similarity: voice. The human voice has the ability to carry so many various inflections and variations that, in many ways, it is the sum of all human communication.

Think back to the last time you used sarcasm. Was it yesterday? This morning? Hell, a few minutes ago? For better or worse, sarcasm has pervaded American vernacular. Luckily, sarcasm is one of the best examples of how inflections alter speech.


A common finding in comment sections across the internet goes as such: sarcasm does not translate through text. As you might have guessed, this is due to the inflections that make up the human voice. The same sentence can be said in so many different ways to represent different emotions, and even completely different meanings.

This is what Sarah Koenig refers to when she comments that listening to Serial as a podcast brings more life to the story. Being able to hear the emotions in the words attaches a specifically human element to the tale–a quality that is sorely needed in a murder case such as this. Transcripts simply cannot hold the same nuances that a genuine human voice can.

Of course, this brings us back to our introduction. In recent years, directors and screenwriters the world over have made this same finding. Despite all evidence to the contrary, there is a belief that books will always be better after being translated to the big screen. This thought–mislead or no–is built and influenced by the need for humanity in text. There’s no doubt that this trend will only rise in the future.

Personally, I don’t think that this effects an author’s ability to develop a character. Saying someone is a good person and writing it down has the same effect. The only exception to this I can see is that readers/listeners will be more inclined to relate with the character they can hear–the character that has a more human quality to them.

2 thoughts on “Speaking to the Truth

  1. Amanda Romeo

    I actually disagree with the idea that sarcasm can’t be used in written text. I think it can most definitely be found in written works, and when it it, it really says a lot about the skills of both the reader and the writer. Sure, it’s one of those things that is often left up to interpretation, but it definitely can be and is implied by many authors .

    1. Stephen J. West

      I agree, Amanda–maybe it’s that reading sarcasm requires more nuance than hearing it or seeing it on the big screen?

      There is something to the idea that hearing and/or seeing a character–especially in a nonfictional text– can have a tangible impact on how a listener/viewer interprets that character. I’m not sure I can say it is more powerful than a character rendered on the page, but it would be something to look into further. I’m sure there are plenty of psychological studies that show how juries react to body language and appearance, and how it influences their perceptions of people, even “truth.”

      As readers of CNF, aren’t we the jurors? So can’t we be just as susceptible to appearance of characters, given they are indeed real?


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