by Helen Lloyd
In the previous article in this series, we looked at some of the challenges that any professional audiobook narrator faces on a day-to-day basis.
Narrators find their own way to deal with these challenges, but I suspect that if you were to ask twenty narrators twenty questions about how they prepare before recording, how they create character voices, how they tell the story, let alone how the actual recording is achieved, you’d probably get twenty different answers.
We all have our own way to get ourselves ready to record. However, I think that there are some universal audiobook narration truths that 99% of narrators will observe – and that seems a pretty good place to visit next.
Getting Ready to Record
Thorough preparation before stepping into the studio to record is vital. Exactly what each narrator does and how much prep they do will vary, but I am 99% sure that not one single professional audiobook narrator steps into a recording studio without either having paid someone to research for them, or having spent some time on their own research and preparation.
All narrators will ‘read’ the book they’re about to narrate at least once (though how concentrated and detailed their read is may vary!) There is skim-reading and concentrated reading and I know that some narrators who are very familiar with a particular genre or a particular author’s way of writing (or narrators of non-fiction who are very experienced in narration in a particular style or of a particular genre of non-fiction) may give a fantastic performance having only done a skim read. However, this is not an option for most people, because for most reads, there are too many options, and you can only make an informed choice if you know the content before you start to narrate. This is particularly true if you’re narrating a work of fiction where there are character choices.
Almost every book has a pattern – an arc, if you like. The exposure of the plot, the crisis or high point of the story, and then the denouement. Each character within the story, has, at every moment a motivation or need, a reason for doing what they do and an emotional response to what is happening. Each person in a story is on their own journey, each has a ‘personality’ – a temperament, if you prefer, and a back history. Where have they come from? Why are they here? What do they want or need? How do they feel? Start off with too much energy or intensity for a character and they peak too soon; start with too little energy and they have too far to travel.
Then there is the accent minefield! There are numerous stories (mostly apocryphal I suspect) about narrators who didn’t read before starting to record and who subsequently made the wrong accent choice – creating a character from say Ireland, only to find on page three hundred and something that he or she actually hailed from Kazakhstan!
Joking apart – as well as finding out about the story and the characters that populate the work, there is so much other valuable information to be gleaned from reading a book before recording begins. Prepping is about far more than simply highlighting a text with different coloured markers to denote which character is speaking. The text will reveal descriptions of how a character sounds, sometimes physical descriptions that will help the narrator find a character’s personality and voice. Voices change with age, people who are related to each other may sound similar – voices reflect people’s attitude to life and each other – and extreme emotion or stress have a marked effect too.
If a narrator’s prep is only a mark on the text to denote who is speaking at any one time, then then they are unlikely to reach their potential as a narrator. A stage actor can walk off stage after a below par performance knowing that only their fellow actors and that night’s audience will have seen what they did; they can start all over again tomorrow night with a new audience, but in recorded media, a less than wonderful performance lives on … and on and on. So, narrators generally work hard to be the best they can be in every book they narrate.
Each narrator finds the way that suits them best and develops a thorough knowledge of what works for them. I feel sure though that most good narrators will agree that preparation is what makes the difference between a good read and a not so good read – and perhaps even between a good read and a great read that gets awards and wonderful reviews.
There are always times when there is time pressure, deadlines are often tight, and I think that most narrators have a safe ‘easy option’ that they know they can rely on – an unprepared or under rehearsed actor quite often gives a very adequate performance, but their audience can often sense that they’re playing it safe. A director or a listener will notice that the actor is ‘not present’ if they’re under prepared… and a narrator who is ‘not present’ is doing the author, themselves and their listeners a disservice!
The final stage in the narrator’s work is the actual recording, which I will cover in the last part of this series.
If you are an author who would like to bring your work to audio – whether to expand your audience, connect with new readers / listeners, or enhance your brand, get in touch with Raconteurs Audio today – and find out more about how we can help you publish your audiobook!
About Helen Lloyd
Helen has been blogging for many years – about acting, audiobooks and other related stuff. She is a founder member of Raconteurs Audio, and as well as being an award winning audiobook narrator and producer, she is a narrator coach and mentor helping numerous narrators to hone their skills and advance their narration journey.