Adding Texture Day 5 - Big Voice vs Little Voice

This one again comes from Palahnuik’s book Consider This. Here’s the idea: The little voice (also called the recording angel) is objective. It tells us about the events or the activity in a non-judgmental manner. The big voice comments on it and draws conclusions. Knowing when to use one or the other can have a profound impact on a writing.

One of the examples he gives of big voice is a voiceover on film. For instance, the Captain’s Log in Star Trek, the voiceovers in Sex in the City. The camera is acting as the little voice, showing what happened with no commentary. The voiceover is commenting on it. I also think of Spock’s “moral of the story” monologues that happen toward the end of each episode as a sort of big voice, or the ending of King Kong.

In songs, I often here the little voice in the verses and the big voice in the chorus or the bridge. That is not a rule, sometimes it is spliced throughout. But, it kind of makes sense, especially if you are writing to a theme, concept, or title. The chorus is going to be pontificating of what the actions of the verses demonstrates.

Here are a few examples:
Hayden - Bullet
This one, to me, is a perfect example. The verses pretty much simply portray something to our senses. The chorus tells us more about what those images mean.
Here are the lyrics:

I turn the radio up again
Roll the window down and take it in
I’m going too fast but i don’t give a s**t
Cause something’s chasing me and I have to win

It makes sense to forget what it takes

I found a bullet outside my door
I think it’s me it was intended for

It makes sense to forget what it takes

The verses is pretty clearly little voice, telling us what is happening. The chorus (or refrain) is speaking about what that means to the narrator and providing judgment of those things.

The next example is Marcy Playground - One More Suicide:

Christopher O’Malley went out on a bridge
Down in Chehalis
And clutching his bible and a letter from her
Fell into the river

Pity no one was there
No angels in the air
And the morning paper ran
One more suicide, yeah

His mama stayed by the riverside
Down in Chehalis
And clutching her bible and a letter from him
Fell into crying

Pity no one was there
No angels in the air
And the morning paper ran
One more suicide

Again, the verses use specific imagery. The Chorus speaks comments on it, “Pity no one was there”. What makes this kind of cool, is the chorus ends with what I think is little voice “The morning paper ran, “One More Suicide””. The reason I think it is cool is because it describes an objective event, but one that based on the context of the song provides a big voice connotation (“Suicides are common, he is just another one. Isn’t that kind of depressing?”)

One other song that uses the same type of set up is Okkervil River - Whole Wide World (I couldn’t find a universal link to it like YouTube, Bandcamp, Audiomack, or Soundcloud, but you should try to look it up):

You’d better wear a dress that covers up that bruise,
how could I refuse your wish that I do that to you?
You’d better take your face from every cloud I see,
how could I have known you’d be so deep inside of me?

And this whole wide world isn’t wide enough.
And this big bright sun isn’t bright enough.

You’d better call your brother, say I won’t be there,
though when I think of your hair I have to stop the car.
You shouldn’t tell them that you’ve seen my face somewhere,
when I leaned in your direction I leaned much too far.

Now this whole wide world isn’t wide enough.
And this big bright sun isn’t bright enough.
And you could not have lied enough to make me believe.

Please will the highway never end?
Some things get broken and they never fix again.

You’d better buy your ticket, pay for it yourself.
Here’s one for your health and here’s one empty window seat.
All crooked, all bloody, I’ll take my leave.
All the leaves fall and the turnpike lies in front of me.

And this whole wide world isn’t wide enough.
And this big bright sun isn’t bright enough.
And you could not have lied enough to make me believe
you were telling the truth to me.

It’s the same kind of thing. Specific images and descriptions in the verses without much judgement. Then the chorus tells us what the narrator thinks.

For an example of where the little and big voices are more intricately intertwined, try listening to Cemetry Gates by The Smiths. It seems to shift effortlessly between little and big voice throughout. Another one (which CONTAINS VERY EXPLICIT LYRICS) is Guilty Conscience by Eminem and Dr. Dre : The two singers speak to specific events happening to the characters, acting as their conscience, then provide commentary to try to get the characters to do/not to do something.


For the exercise, try writing a few lines using little voice only, then a few lines in big voice judging or commenting on the little voice lines.

Back when you were only as tall as the tires
On the crossover we bought to keep you safe
You sang as you spoke every word to the world
And surprise hugs were always on display
You’d chatter for hours about whatever mattered
You’d run to avoid the onsetting of sleep
And scream about stickers and pretend friends

The time bomb explodes and we’re left in the ashes
Of anything that we refused to hold dear
Each time I said “annoying” or wished for it to end
I condemned myself to prophecy
Because you are older now, and it’s not in style to smile
And I’m stuck in the untreasured days

NOTE: So my thought was trying to capture little specific activities of a child from a parent’s perspective. That is the little voice in the first part. The second part, the big voice, is looking back on those actions and judging them and commenting on them. Basically, saying all those activities that made it difficult are what the parent most misses.

patting the ashy tip of my cigarette on my knee
ripped jeans
so it burns the small creases in my skin
i just want to feel something again

sirens wailing and in jest i ask you
if smoking is illegal in this town
they get louder
and your frown wont rub off
with the back of my hand
as the sirens die out you tell me—so have your friends

whistling in beer bottles with pursed lips
an ominous hum
when i kiss the glass rim
my sister was just in the hospital hooked to a pump

note: i rly like juxtaposing like this, i usually think of it like zooming in and out. i tried to make the last lines hit like those intrusive thoughts that briefly take you out of a good time

This is good. The big voice is very subtle in it. “I just want to feel something again” “If smoking is illegal in this town”. The little voice is really well played. This contrasting of facts vs judgment, details vs grand statements is really neat to play around with.