by Helen Lloyd
Of course the narrator is telling the story – but that is really only the beginning.
The narrator must create not only an intimate and approachable narrative – creating the ‘voice of the story teller’ that entices the listener in and makes them want to hear more – but must also create every character within each book. Each person in the book must live vividly in the listener’s imagination as a believable and unique person with a separate and clearly identifiable ‘voice’ that must not only fit their character as described by others, but must also gives insight to the listener – so that the listener understands each character’s motivation, feelings and emotions and their role within the story.
Add to this the potential for numerous unfamiliar words and pronunciations, sometimes passages written in a foreign language, and even (in fantasy novels especially) places and people with totally made-up names for which there is no reference at all. Non-fiction narration brings different challenges, dry and academic writing, mathematical symbols and scientific references, numerous lists and tables, acronyms, abbreviations and footnotes – all things that may be difficult to translate into speech.
When read aloud, an apparently well written novel can sound surprisingly repetitive and cliché-ridden, with stilted dialogue and two dimensional characters – and then there are the attributions! A line of dialogue is often followed by a ‘said Emily’, ‘remarked Paul’, ‘asked Peter,’ and so on – and sometimes an attribution and an adverb: ‘said Emily crossly.’ An adjective may be thrown in for good measure – or a whole series of them: ‘said Emily crossly through clenched teeth while arching her eyebrows above her deep blue eyes, and shaking her long luxuriant curls in a provocative manner as she pulled herself out of his arms with her bosom heaving!
I exaggerate, but you get the picture!
Then there are the descriptions of how people sound that can really challenge. One of my personal favourites is from Rain, a short story by W. Somerset Maugham:
“… the most remarkable thing about her was her voice. High, metallic and without inflection. It fell on the ear with a hard monotony, irritating to the nerves like the pitiless clamour of a pneumatic drill”.
This kind of vocal description makes things difficult – because, as well as the need to create a voice that remains true to the author’s intent, the character herself must be believable and listenable. Take that vocal description too far, and listeners would end up with earache!
Alongside the badly written (or overwritten book) you sometimes find that a book, even one that you’re reading for a major publisher, is full of typographical and grammatical errors, as well as the occasional factual error. Narrators and producers have to negotiate their way through that minefield, talking to authors and publishers about what (if anything) should be corrected.
These are just some of the technical challenges that face any audiobook narrator. The solution? Meaningful preparation, which will be the subject of the next article in 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.