What Makes a Great Audiobook Narrator?
Oct 27, 2014
Mediocrity thrives as a seemingly inexorable facet of the human experience. Lines are blurred and often the truly great are left to wallow in the realms of obscurity. How, then, does one learn to separate the chaff from the wheat? The process can be long and arduous, but once you learn to recognize true quality narration, your experiences in the world of audible literature will undoubtedly be taken to new heights. The world of audiobook narration is no different from any other artistic medium, dominated by a select few who are not always the best equipped for the job. A great book can be ruined in the hands of a bad narrator or lifted to new heights by a truly great one. A great narrator will take the story places beyond what the average reader is capable of processing internally, weaving seamlessly in and out of different character voices in a natural rhythmic current of dialogue.
Specificity is paramount to achieving greatness in audiobook narration. A master British narrator trained in Shakespearian and classical theater may be perfect for British historical fiction but fail utterly in recreating the accent of a southerner from the United States. First-rate dialogue can be made unbearable by a narrator painfully attempting to recreate the accent of a person beyond their range. This, however, is preferable to the narrator who chooses to depict all characters in the same monotonous droning voice throughout the entire book. This is the most common offense. Failing to differentiate between characters’ voices as well as omitting emotion makes for a wholly unenjoyable audiobook experience and can effectively ruin the story.
A narrator who is well acquainted with the book has a better grasp on when changes in dialogue as well as spoken and internal monologue occur, thus creating smoother transitions. Finding the ideal speed of narration is important as well; some narrators have a tendency to rush, while others go painfully slow. Both are equally annoying and make the material presented difficult to grasp. Studio etiquette, as well as choosing the right room for recording, should command the same level of respect and attention to detail as selection of the narrator. Habits such as breathing heavily into the microphone or audible gulps of water can make an audiobook unlistenable. Some of these trespasses are inescapable even among the most skilled practitioners. Like a musician who has mastered technique and tone but lacks the ability to groove, it is difficult to find a narrator who excels in all of these areas even after a lifetime of dedication. When all of these factors are taken into account, a quality product can be achieved, often surpassing the capabilities of the text alone.