Audiobook Narrator: Defining the Art
By William Dufris
The main difference between narrator and reader is that while readers may simply read, narrators must also ‘perform’ the piece. The ideal narrator engages their audience, enabling the listener to “suspend their disbelief”. Narration is how an actor plays the sub-text, speaks like a real person and pays homage to the material.
A Narrator must be able to handle both a narrative and dialogue, play multiple roles and both genders, handle difficult pronunciations and perform convincing accents. *A Narrator must not only be a great performer, but also a great person, as well. Too many other people in the mix, essential to a successful production, who should be respected as not alienated.
The unique qualities if a narrator are uniformly in contrast to those of a commercial voice-over actor. The Main difference is that the narrator’s endurance and ability to string together many sentences and paragraphs in a consistent linear fashion is a wholly different talent than reciting one punchy sentence for a commercial. Take the ‘sell’ out of the voice. A narrator must know how to make a script work over a course of hours. This requires the ability to read ahead while concentrating on what’s being narrated out loud, as well as being able to sense the ‘shapes’ of sentences. There is a need for ‘control’ in a narrator’s voice, for if one is unable to control his/her technique, the any direction from the producer is meaningless. Narrators should also concentrate on tonality and range, as these will garner engaged listeners.
Common mistakes narrators make include: failure to recognize parallel construction, the failure of attribution (continuing with character voice when not appropriate), improper pronunciation/accent, and lack of variety when coloring text.
Narrator’s purpose is to serve the author’s work. Every book is unique and the narrator is the most important part in the making of an audiobook. The Listener needs to have experience with the narrator, so a narrator needs to allow the listener to use their imagination while letting the pace and language speak for itself. The narrator makes a concentrated effort to discover the right voice, overall tone and vocal intention to convey the message of the text and of the author. In the first person, the narrator needs to play that character from the first breath. Proper preparation of book is imperative, and narrator’s interpretation of work walks a fine line between the actual story being told, the narrator himself, the producer/director, the author, and even the publisher. Narrator must have confidence and initial approach to the book, and that product will be hybrid of many interpretations of work.
It is always a valuable advantage to have contact with an author. The author provides the ingredients of a recipe, but producer/narrator create the product. Another analogy would be that of the producer being a conductor, defining pace and timing, while narrator ensures that those parameters are met and understood by the listener.
Remember that audio speakers don’t ‘wink’. The voice through speakers does not have luxury of a face to create further visible emotional cues. Therefore, all emotions must be conveyed through the voice in such a way that expresses what is ‘burned’ into the text- without going over the top.
Opposite genders: Don’t impersonate, get the hook, interpret and to play character-not gender. For dialects, the mastery is up to narrator, and modulation is up to producer. (Waiters at ethnic restaurants are a great source for dialect coaching-bring along a recorder.)
There is a strong correlation between conservatory training and stage experience that helps shape a good audiobook narrator.
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William Dufris is the original voice of BOB (and Farmer Pickles/Mr. Beasley/Mr. Sabatini) in the popular children's show, BOB The Builder - for US and Canada (Series 1-9). William (Bill) began his audio career in London (where he resided for 13 years) doing radio plays, audiobooks, film/animation dubbing, and language tapes. He has shared the microphone in a number of BBC Radio plays with Kathleen Turner, Sharon Gless, Stockard Channing and Helena Bonham-Carter. These experiences led him to co-found two audio production companies - The Story Circle, Ltd in the UK, and Mind's Eye Productions in the US, for which he produces, directs, acts and engineers. He has been nominated six times as an audiobook finalist for the APA's prestigious Audie Award, and has garnered 16 Golden Earphones Awards through AudioFile Magazine, who also named William Dufris "One Of The Best Voices At The End Of The The Century."
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