Last week, I presented my Audiobook Narrator Self-Assessment Quiz. Today, we’ll look at the rationale behind the Baseline and Language questions. Note that these questions don’t have right or wrong answers.
Have you ever heard the sound of your recorded voice?
I asked this question because many people have never heard a recording of their voice. When they do hear it, they don’t think it sounds like them.
Listening to your own voice can help you identify areas where you need improvement. For instance, your diction may sound sloppy and even make words unintelligible to the listener. Remember, the listener won’t have the benefit of the text or your facial clues in deciphering your speech. If you sound raspy, you may need to drink more water and stay better hydrated. Actually, it’s a good practice to drink lots of water each day so that you are always prepared to record!
Once people get used to the sound of their recorded voice, they can fall in love with it. It’s a mistake to listen too much to yourself in your headphones as you record. The goal in audiobook narration is to make the author’s words shine, not our own voices. If you or listeners are paying attention to your vocal mechanics, you and they will not be able to maintain interest in the story.
Have you ever read aloud?
We read things in our minds differently than we do out loud. In fact, we often skim texts and skip over words entirely. Audiobook narrators must read each and every word on the page with the appropriate inflection in the order they are written without adding, subtracting, or transposing them while maintaining any character voices and exhibiting the emotion found in the text and sub-text. If we make a mistake, we must stop and re-start the recording so we can say it again.
Narration requires vocal stamina that most people don’t automatically have. You’d think it would be as easy as talking, but you need to strengthen the larynx muscles by practicing reading aloud. You may also want to do specific exercises to improve the quality of your speech.
Do you enjoy telling stories?
We tend to think of born storytellers as those who attract people with their every utterance. It’s one thing to rely on one’s personal charm and tell a short, funny joke. It’s another thing entirely to read someone else’s words and communicate that author’s intent to the listener.
You may have been told that you have a nice voice. One’s voice is NOT the most important part of becoming a narrator! Every word the author wrote has meaning, and the narrator must understand and be fully engaged with the text to deliver its meaning and realize the author’s vision. You wouldn’t read an adult non-fiction book in the same manner as a children’s fairy tale. Knowing how to change your tone to match the genre and emotion of the text is a key part of telling an author’s story.
Do you have training or experience in acting or oral interpretation?
Acting and oral interpretation classes, and certainly Toastmasters, focus on giving speeches or performing in front of an audience. A narrator needs acting skills to connect to and convey the emotional content of the book. However, audiobook narration does not depend on stage directions, other actors, or the audience reaction. It’s an intimate medium. You’re right in the listener’s ear, so you need to be able to adjust your volume downward while continuing to use your full range.
As far as your delivery and performance, award-winning narrator and coach Marc Cashman outlined 10 Skills You Need for Audiobook Narration + Voice Work.
I recommend all newcomers to train with one or more vetted audiobook coaches on this spreadsheet to learn performance skills necessary to become a successful narrator.
Do you love language?
Most narrators I know delight in words. We love awesome alliterations, evocative descriptions, and clever metaphors. I’ve noticed that a large number of narrators not only enjoyed our English classes in school, but we’re well-versed in grammar rules.
Often, though, the books we narrate may be lacking interesting literary devices. What’s a narrator to do? A passage I heard when listening to the audiobook of The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger contains the secret. The lead character Henry had a father who was a 2nd chair violinist in the symphony. Henry described his father this way:
“He has this idea that every piece of music should be treated with respect, even if it isn’t something he likes much. I mean, he doesn’t like Tchaikovsky, or Strauss, but he will play them very seriously. That’s why he’s great; he plays everything as though he’s in love with it.”
By exercising the same love and respect for the language before us, a narrator can elevate even the most mundane writing into a thing of beauty. After all, language is meant to be spoken. Oral storytelling came long before written words.
What is your native language?
If your native language is not English, you may find it more difficult to get a foothold in the audiobook industry. Take heart! Each year, production continues to increase around the world, and native speakers of other languages are being sought after more often.
Do you know more than 1 language? If so, how would you rate your proficiency in it?
Most casting directors and producers these days are looking for authentic native speakers for books. In addition, foreign words regularly appear in English texts. Some level of training or, better yet, fluency in 1 or more languages other than English could lead to your being cast for a book.
In my next article, I’ll talk about the personality and work habits section. In the meantime, I’d love to learn your thoughts about the quiz. Please leave a comment on the blog!
Updated 2/14/19 to link to Marc Cashman’s article