A comment from Richie Brown (one of the Twisted 50 Authors) on the Twisted 50 Audiobook Blog got me thinking.
Richie asked “Are some stories better suited to reading aloud than others because of the way they are written? If so, what lends a story to an audio performance? Or is it the case that an experienced narrator with an engrossing manner is able to read any story to good effect?
I am sure if you ask any audiobook reader what kind of story they would prefer to narrate, they will all, without exception prefer to narrate, ‘a well written one’. Surely then, because it is so notoriously difficult to get a book into print, every book that makes it through the rigorous selection process and actually comes out of the doors of a recognised publishing house, especially if it sells well and gets favourable reviews is, by definition, a well written book and is therefore ideally suited to becoming an audiobook.
Well actually, no, not in my opinion.
I don’t think it’s that straightforward. You see, reading books aloud often reveals their flaws, things that when one is reading to oneself, are perhaps skimmed over, or just disappear because you’re so wrapped up in the story. But when you’re reading aloud (or listening to someone else reading aloud), all those little inconsistencies and repetitions are hugely magnified and become increasingly noticeable over a ten hour long read (which is the length of the average audiobook).
So, what drives us narrators mad? One of the main bugbears is the overuse of attribution – hardly noticeable when you read to yourself. The too frequent use of ‘he said…, she said…, …said Jill, …replied Fred, …Joh exclaimed, … announced Daisy – is made even more irritating by the addition of directions as to how something should be said, ‘he said through gritted teeth, she said with a simper, said Jill snidely, replied Fred angrily, explained John while munching a cucumber sandwich, announced Daisy while pulling her jumper over her head … You get the gist. When dialogue is constantly interrupted by ‘he said’, ‘she said’ every time anyone speaks, it slows the story down and makes it sound stilted and unreal, however well it is read.
We all work very hard to make every book we narrate sound as good as it can sound. After all, we’re being paid to read not to be a critic – but it can be tough to breathe life into something that has little life in it!
Other narrator pet hates include inconsistent characters whose speech or actions don’t match their description or their role within the story; lots of meaningless characters who pop up for a page or two then disappear without trace and who neither move the story on nor contribute to it – and then there are the glaringly obvious mistakes – and I am not talking about the odd typo or grammatical error. I have known a character being described as ‘a true Scot’ at the beginning of a book, being later described as ‘a cockney born at bred’ in a later chapter. If only authors would read their own work aloud, many of these things would be so obvious … and the resulting audiobook would be much improved.
As to narrators with ‘experience and the engrossing manner’ overcoming these problems, we do our best, but it’s not just down to experience. Some people are just natural narrators … there are several readers who have just begun narrating and even a couple for whom ‘Twisted 50’ is their first venture into audiobook narration, then there are others with almost 400 books to their credit.
What everyone involved in this venture has in common is the ability to be compelling, creative, credible and fully connected with the text they’re reading, making it their own.
Twisted50 AudioBook Producer
PS … I’ve just run a quick total on the number of audiobooks we Twisted 50 narrators have to our credit … an amazing 1,624 audiobooks … and that number is rising daily.