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Narrating an Audio-Book

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For anyone who has only written material to be read, the switch to writing that has to be spoken can be a minefield and that's mainly because the novice writer imagines them to be the same.
I'm talking here about a fictional story which is to be narrated and on the surface these should be the same; After all many great novels have been transformed into audio-books. But these are rarely great audio-books because they were not written specifically for that medium.

The strength of the printed story as with the audio play is that they allow the imagination to come into play, for though a character may be described in a book, their picture in our mind will be our own. Similarly with an audio play, a character may appear but without he is described by another character we have no idea as to their appearance, and the listener's imagination must fill in the gaps.

But with a piece of fiction which is to be narrated by one voice one can not make a direct narration because too many of the clues are missing. No matter how skilled an actor the narrator is, there is still the possibility that confusion can come when differentiating characters.

So, where the printed page may read –

"I'm going home now, I'm tired."
"Really? I thought you looked quite lively."

The reader knows that this is a conversation between two people because of the punctuation marks, but a listener does not and that requires the insertion of the ubiquitous 'he said', 'she said' to a degree which would not be acceptable to A reader, but is necessary for a listener.

If one adds sound effects and background music which might drown or muffle the narrator's voice the effect can be even more confusing.

If this sees trivial to the writer, they are missing the point. If the story is to be told, it should be told well.

This is important because of the rise of the audio-book, especially Amazon's Audible imprint. Amazon rarely get things wrong and they are making a huge investment in promoting Audible, creating a huge opportunity for the indie writer. But to just take your masterpiece and hand it to a narrator is to do it an injustice. It describes to be rewritten with the listener in mind rather than the reader and there is another lesson to be learned here about brevity. With a printed page a boring passage can easily be bypassed, or pages flicked forward to the reader re-engages with the story, but this is impossible with an audio-book because a fast forward button about your MP3 player still leaves you guessing about where To restart your listening.

So, cut it down, eliminate the boring, no matter how luscious your prose. The very fact of listening to a story, rather than reading it or sitting in front of a screen means it is very likely the listener is performing some other task at the same time. Bore them and they'll hit the Stop button before heading to Amazon for a refund.

This is, reliably speaking, a new medium and even a skilled dramatist, experienced in writing for radio can be worn out by the vagaries of a narrated text. Narrators cost money as does studio time, so it's best to narrate yourself to begin with and let a friend or colleague pass comment on your efforts before incurring any expenditure. If they understand every word and love it, you've done well and would be justified in hiring a professional narrator. But the likelihood is that there will be flaws and these should be corrected before going pro.

This is not an easy option because narrating a novel of 60,000 words is going to stretch to over five and a half hours of audio at an average reading speed of 180 words per minute. But reading it aloud brings added benefits in that it can aid the editing process and pick up errors more easily than reading silently from page or screen so I would recommend recording your new chapter by chapter so it does not become too onerous a task to do In one session.

In conclusion, remember this. Hearing it is very different from reading it.

By Marjorie Holt

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