More on Skills for Audio Book Narration


Love the idea of audio book narration?

Well, if you’ve determined you have a love of books and reading, excellent sight-reading skills AND have a fabulous voice for it, then get excited.

The world of the audio book is experiencing considerable growth.

I recently wrote a blog that gave you some crucial techniques for working in this area successfully.  Here’s the link to that one, if you’d like to read it first.   It gives a foundation to what I’m going to talk about here.

  • Understanding the authors intention
  • Creating the right mood, flavor or attitude for the story
  • Not sounding fake when reading dialogue
  • Breathing techniques for long-form narration


Understanding the Authors Intention 

What are you talking about?

I’ve heard sample audio book narration that are so lacking in understanding of what the story is that I think, “Have they actually read this book?”

I studied writing in the 1990’s and I was four years into my part-time Diploma when something amazing happened that changed the way I wrote.

I became a conscious reader.

That is, I’d learned enough about the structure of writing; plot, jeopardy, turning points, A, B and C stories, denouement, character and exposition, to be able to see the bones, the skeleton of every book I ever read.

It didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the book.  Happily, it increased it.

I believe that being a conscious reader is a crucial skill in becoming excellent at audio book narration.

Unless you know what you’re talking about, and have a thorough knowledge of the text, your work won’t be sufficiently engaged.

Researching as much as you can about the author and the reason for, or history of, the book is essential to give you an informed position to spring from.


Creating the Right Mood, Flavor or Attitude for the Story 

I’ve talked about this before.  Reason being, it’s sooo important!

Ask yourself these questions of the book.

  • Who am I (the narrator) As in 1st, 2ndor 3rdperson?

Who you are as narrator will inform the style of your read in at least three ways.

Are ‘you’, as narrator, the story (first person)?  This is common with autobiography of course.  Or are you telling the story from your own experience/memory, ‘I this, I that’ … etc.

Are you suggesting (second person)?  This is not as common but can be a useful device.  This form uses the word ‘you’ to move the story along.  It’s a bit like a commentary of a visual.  ‘You did this and that, and then you went here and there. You always do this when’ … etc.

Or, are you outside the story (third person), commenting on events and characters.

  • What period is the book set in and how will that change my approach?

Where and when a book is set will inform choices that you make about accent, tone and pace.  It even impacts on the way you use language rhythmically.

If it’s possible, find recordings of voices from that time period and experiment with jumping into the shoes of someone who lived then.

  • What is my attitude in the telling of this story?

Attitude is a crucial consideration.  Not matter who you are a reading needs to carry with it a position, an attitude or an emotional truth.

As the story reveals itself, different considerations about those aspects may need to change.  Make these changes subtle.  Playing too big in audio book narration can be exhausting to the listener.

Remember, you are playing to an audience of one.  Keep it intimate.  You do this by keeping the volume at a low level.  Don’t mistake low volume for low energy. It just can’t be loud.  No one likes to be yelled at.

And, the less volume you use, the more able you’ll be to access ‘the voice actor’ within. Well that’s the idea anyway.


Sounding Fake when Reading Dialogue

I know that a lot of potential book narrators worry about how to achieve believable characters.

One thing they worry about is how to sound like a male if they’re a female and vice versa.

I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s excruciating hearing someone trying to put on a fake voice.  It never works.  So don’t do it.

When you get a book with a lot of characters in it, you need to find a way of remembering what each character ‘sounds’ like.   But rather than thinking about them as a sound, which is making it about your voice make it about an aspect of their personality.

For instance, you’re a female, narrating a book with a male protagonist who’s a smart arse, with lots of money and little regard for others, you may like to choose the character trait ‘arrogant’.  Just play this attitude under all his dialogue.  Don’t try to find a ‘voice’ for him, just an attitude.

If you’re a male narrator and you have a female character who’s being walked on and used by others, you may choose to play ‘innocent’ or ‘meek’.  Perhaps through the journey this person grows in character and you may need to change the emotion to something like ‘triumphant’.

To begin with just choose one umbrella attitude or emotion though.  Then it’ll be much easier to remember where you are with that character.


Breathing Techniques for Long-form Narration

Okay, let’s breathe!  Easy isn’t it.? The air just sweeps in and out.  So simple!

However, those I coach often worry about breath in relation to anything that they need to read off the page.  “Where and how do I breathe?”

The thing is, where and how to breathe is one of the most important techniques you can master.  First up, you need a good lung-full of air to get through the work, but you aregoing to run out, so here’s a tips that’ll help.

When you’re prepping for audio book narration, one of the most useful things you can do, is read it aloud and work out where you’re going to take a breath.  Mark it on your scripts with a forward slash in pencil. Practice, pausing long enough to take in that air that you need.

It may feel like a big gap, but don’t forget, you’re taking someone on a visual and emotional journey, so taking you time between each piece of story or new information is essential.

Also, in narration we don’t necessarily look to punctuation as a guide to when and where we need to pause. Punctuation is placed in written word because of the formality of sentence structure.

However, in spoken word, you need to work out where to pause in story-telling terms.

That’s where an understanding of how to look at language in terms of the value of the sentence, clause or phrase, as being distinctly different from each other.

When you can understand simply ‘that’ they differ, you can use the moment between each different thought, idea or visual to pause, and simply and silently (just as we do when we talk with a friend) take in enough air to get us to the next pause.

This technique does take some practice, but as you can imagine, audio book narration takes time.  If you’re doing it in a studio, the engineer then needs to edit it.  If you are making a lot of mistakes and breathing noisily at every pause, these breaths need to removed manually.  It’s a bit tedious to do and costs the studio time and money.

Becoming successful at audio book narration depends on your excellent voiceover skills, not just as a reader, but as a narrator who can truly inhabit the work, in whichever way serves it best

So, I hope those techniques will help answer questions you may have had, or solve problems you may not have know how to get around.

Happy book narrating!

I love working with those who want to perfect their audio book narration. 

I’m running a regular course on audio book narration via Zoom.  If this is what you need to build your skills and technique just click this link for more information.