Little girl reading a book

Narrating an Audiobook? 3 Tips for Successful Narration

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When you narrate a book, you’re taking on the role of a guide- someone who knows the way.

Just like the voice at Disney World that tells you to keep your arms in the vehicle at all times, the narrator voice actor is tasked with providing audible guardrails to keep their dear listener on track.

What does it take to narrate well? Here are 3 things you need to do for a successful voyage.

1. Knowing All

As a narrator, you need to know how the story ends before you even step up to the mic. Being informed is key to building your confidence as a performer.

A good narrator is in full control. He or she knows the terrain, anticipates the ups and downs of a journey and serves as a constant, like the reader’s North star.

The narrator does not purposefully mislead his or her listeners. You are tasked with ferrying the audience from one end of the story to the other. The words you say are deliberate and measured. You should never be surprised by the text or anything that a character does. After all, you know everything!

2. Being Objective

While one of your main responsibilities is to communicate the author’s intent, you also need to keep yourself at a bit of a distance from the reader.

Narrators often tell stories from the sidelines. They have a full view of what is going on and because of their vantage point, can let an audience in on privileged information many of the characters do not have.

Your perspective is free from emotion- you’re telling it like it is. Like a good journalist does, the narrator does not take sides or reveal bias. You’re presenting the facts (or the story) as the author intended it to be received.

As objective storytellers, narrators achieve the ultimate balancing act.

3. Painting the Picture

People enjoy listening to audiobooks because they love being told a story. A professional narrator is an expert at doing this. Great narrators breathe life into a text while infusing each word and punctuation mark with color and meaning.

Drawing the listener into a story using only your voice is an art. However, being able to jump from the voice of the narrator to other distinct characters is also an art. By being adept at both you have the power to endear a listener to a character or make them cringe at the mere sound of their voice.

Separating character voices and giving them unique attributes as dictated by the text is an adventure in itself. The more characters there are, the greater your opportunity for vocal experiment within boundaries set by the author.

However, always keep in mind that while there is room to improvise with the workings of your instrument, a balance must be struck with the words to maintain integrity. You’ve made an agreement with the author, and also the audience, that your part is to be played with authenticity and a connected autonomy.

What Makes a Great Audiobook Narrator?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject. If you have anything specifically to add about how you feel a narrator should approach foreshadowing, please chime in on that as well.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

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  • Robert J. Kolker
    February 17, 2017, 10:22 pm

    Hi Stef. I am a volunteer reader and checker at Learning Ally in Princeton NJ. My specialty is recording mathematics, physics and engineering text books and treatises. The sort of recording I do is not story telling, but even so recording this technical stuff requires putting some energy into the reading. The worst thing for recording technical material is droning. Droning will put the end user asleep or put him in a negative relationship to the material.

    So what I try to do is put a slight pace to my reading and when I approach the end of a proof or a problem solution I put a slight ta! da! into the reading. Also very important is looking over the diagrams and the tables. We are expected to read the text content of the tables and the diagram description as it is in the text and give a brief description of graphs and such like for our visually impaired end users. It is important to look first and describe second. That means turning off the recording machine and thinking how to describe the table briefly but well.

    Your article is good. I suspect it is more oriented to record novels and narratives. But the advice is good just the same.

  • Stephanie Ciccarelli
    February 17, 2017, 11:23 pm

    Thank you for sharing your perspective, Robert! I appreciate it. Sounds like you’re doing some interesting work. Thank you for your kind words. Yes, this is definitely an article more oriented toward narrating audiobooks, but there is much to be gleaned from the piece for any narrator. You’re in a position of authority and leadership. Make your moments count and help your listener join the story, whatever it may be. Thank you again for joining the conversation!

  • Mary Swanson
    April 5, 2017, 1:07 am

    Thank you. I studied as a narrator, and really my passion is audio books. I love the tips and will work on them.
    I am so looking forward to working on an audio book.
    Thanks again for the great tips
    Mary Swanson

  • Linden Coffman
    April 28, 2017, 1:52 pm

    Thank you for your advice on improving narration style. As the director of a program that records books for the blind and visually impaired, I am working solely with volunteers who come in to read for me. I am always trying to help my narrators better develop their narration skills as they are reading both fiction and non-fiction titles. I have one narrator in particular that is very good at reading the text accurately, but pauses randomly within the text he is reading to the point that it can be distracting. As these are all volunteers and he has been reading consistently for several years before I took this position, I don’t want to let him go, but he really could use improvement. I’ve moved him away from doing fiction as his ability to read dialog is really jarring for the listener. Any suggestions? Thanks again?

  • Ridley Fitzgerald
    July 6, 2017, 6:10 pm

    I love your tips for making a successful narration. Listening to audio books is one of my favorite past times, and I know when I hear a good narrator. Finding someone who will breathe life into the work, as you put it, is definitely a must!

    • Stephanie Ciccarelli
      July 10, 2017, 10:55 pm

      Great to hear from you, Ridley! Thank you for reading the article and for sharing your thoughts.

  • Angela
    August 15, 2017, 11:40 pm

    I think as a narrator you are taking audience on an adventure- though you know outcome you also retain a sense of mystery and suspense. Also it is important that if you decide on how a character speaks it is important to keep it constant.
    Knowing the story inside out could really help to- so it can be played with- yet with a distance.
    Really only a beginner at this but before I begin my next project I want to know how to approach it.
    Thank you for tips

    September 12, 2017, 10:15 am

    Love your article! Do you have any tips for getting rid of pops, cracks, and squishy mouth noises in recordings? Nothing will make me push the stop button faster than to hear a voice artist making juicy mouth noises!