I thought I would tell the story of being an audiobook narrator and what I’ve learned about how to use narration and how to use the voice in audiobook narration, because I think it also feeds into many other areas of storytelling and story crafting – certainly in writing, certainly in filmmaking,
Thinking about how voice operates and how narration operates can be super useful. I spent a long time doing film scripts and narrating some of my films. Very often in the editing process, one would have to do repeated voiceovers for the films in the process of actually putting the film together, because you’d have to look at different cuts and different rough cuts. See what works, see what didn’t.
Very often having the voice there as the commentary, or narrator or even an interjection from a character would be useful when you view the film to understand whether the structure hangs together, whether the film actually works.
So I thought that that would transition over to audiobook narration. I took that on and started to get gigs as an audiobook narrator. And, to my amazement most – almost all – of the gigs I’ve had have been fiction, rather than documentary works, or factual works. Secondly, I seem to have developed a niche as a horror narrator doing quite grim and dark stuff! I’ve done a couple of grimdark books, and a few science fiction, but mostly mostly in the kind of fear and horror genre, which I never expected. The first few books I did, boy was it hard!
I would do ‘punch and roll recording’, which is where when you make a mistake, you stop the recording and you you cursor back to where you made the mistake in the timeline, in the track, and then you hit record again. And you record over the mistake, and then you go forward and you carry on carry on with the book.
This went on for you know, for the first I’d say the first eight to 10 books I did. One was always wrestling with the with the text, with the the interpretation of the words, the interpretation of the sentences. You’re wrestling with how to articulate, how to give colour to the characters, how to differentiate the characters, how to how to play, if you like, with the dynamics and the emotions inside the text. I got good reviews and the authors were happy and the actually delighted.
But it never really felt quite right.
It never really felt like this was a natural process that if you like, you know, I could just do.
I found this frustrating and confusing, because having done 20 years of narration in edit suites, I thought “What’s going on here? Why? Why is this tough? Why can’t I just nail this? Why doesn’t this flow? What’s happening here?”
I would read blog articles, I’d go into narrator groups, I would look at courses, I would look at look at videos on YouTube. I hunted high and low to try to find a solution to this, until finally, I came across Paul Alan Ruben. Paul Alan Ruben directs audiobook narrators in New York, and he’s got a wonderful blog totally worth checking out.
One of his central points is that when you perform an audiobook, and this is true, whether you’re doing fiction or nonfiction, the absolutely critical job for any narrator is to pay attention and focus solely on the emotional subtext. Not the words, not the sentences, not the paragraphs.
Because from the moment the that you are engaged with the emotional intention of the text, from the moment that you are you that is your guide, that is your North Star, that’s your lodestar, you’re following the way the emotions work, the words will flow, and it and it’ll just happen.
You’ve paid attention to the real intention of the text, the real intention of the work, and you’ve put your mind in the place you need to be as the actor, as the performer, as the narrator.
From the moment I started doing that, it just became infinitely easier. We all know how to read, we all know how to read a piece of text forward. The issue is not in the mind or the eye or the brain processing the actual text on the page. The issue is the is the underlying emotions, that then release the subconscious part of the mind to just do the narration, without without really thinking about it at all. You get out of your own way!
You may well not go down the path of becoming an audiobook narrator. But how does this apply to storytelling and to what you might be trying to do with your story crafting? Pay attention to the emotions first, in what you’re creating! Pay attention to the emotions when you’re crafting! Pay attention to the emotion you want to generate at the time that you actually conceive your story.
It’s so important.
And from the moment you actually start to put that front and center in your narrative construction, things change. You know where you’re going with this, you know what you feel and then you know what you want your audience to feel. You start crafting and creating from this standpoint. Then the rest becomes issues of technique, conditions of craft, which the Brilliantio podcast is all about.
I hope this helps you. I hope it inspires you. I hope it gives you something to think about. I also hope that next time you listen to a good audiobook, you think “Okay, I know how this is happening!”