Voice Acting

Narrating Fairy Tales A Good Niche For Voice Artists

Tara Parachuk | June 28, 2011

Are you interested in getting into audiobooks?

How about taking some baby steps before embarking on a 3-week long recording marathon?
Learn how starting out with short stories such as timeless fairy tales can help you cut your teeth on audiobook narration, recording and editing.

In this article

  1. And They All Lived Happily Ever After
  2. Found In Translation?
  3. What’s Old Is New Again
  4. How To Revamp A Classic Tale
  5. Getting The Job Done
  6. Finding Stories To Narrate
  7. Narrating, Recording And Editing
  8. Are You Narrating Fairy Tales?

And They All Lived Happily Ever After

Not every book concludes with what one might consider a happy ending, but if you’re looking for something whimsical to read that’s geared toward the younger set, many fairy tales do. Beloved stories passed down from generation to generation embody a particular grace, pageantry and often a didactic message containing a digestible moral.
In addition to being attractive to both listener and performer, there is a wealth of fairy tales and cautionary tales in the public domain freely available to record without fear of copyright infringement.

Found In Translation?

Don’t want your homeland’s folklore to get lost in translation? If you’re really ambitious, you could always translate fairy tales from your first language into other languages that you speak confidently. Danish voice talent Benjamin Kurzweil did this exact thing when recording Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling. He started with the Danish text and then translated it into English. This is an interesting take on how to get your voice out there and could be of great benefit to talent who speak more than one language.

What’s Old Is New Again

For those who enjoy writing, you might also decide to adapt a story written long, long ago in a land faraway, perhaps even updating it to reflect the landscape we now find ourselves in!

To give you an example of fairy tales that have been updated, consider The Stinky Cheeseman and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. While Scieszka presents somewhat outlandish spinoffs on familiar tales, he also finds a way to reach audiences and hit them with old material in a fresh way. This book was one of my brother’s favorites growing up and we have a copy of it in our home too.
I found a video on YouTube of students at Madonna University narrating select tales from The Stinky Cheeseman, a Caldecott Honor book.

The cast in this video includes Haley Albertsen, Roberta Angeli, Kristen Gillette, Laura Kinney and Nicole Wilson.

How To Revamp A Classic Tale

The National Geographic website features an exercise for updating fairy tales (Grimm, etc.). I was excited to see this and thought that it might be helpful for you should you want to explore it!

Here’s an excerpt from their lesson plan providing a framework for updating a classic tale:

  1. Read or listen to a fairy tale or story, and discuss the story’s main events and themes;
  2. List words and phrases to describe the story’s geographical setting and characters;
  3. Write paragraphs explaining if you would like to live in the world depicted in the story;
  4. Discuss whether the story would make sense if it took place in your community, and list the ways you could change the story to make it more relevant to the world you live in today;
  5. Discuss whether old fairy tales can still be interesting and relevant today; and
  6. Plan and perform an updated version of the fairy tale or story.

Getting The Job Done

Narrating for children can be one of the best gigs out there. Fe Fi Fo Fun Storyteller, Don Conley, is a UCLA Theater Arts Graduate and past Improv Instructor who narrates with multiple character voices and records using Audacity. Conley also adds music and sound effects to each story.

Conley relates, “Recording these stories is great fun. There are no limitations on how far I can go with the character voices.”
There are many narrators who focus on this area in my acquaintance and each one of them brings a delightful interpretation to the fairy tales they choose to invigorate. Perhaps you’re doing the same thing!

Finding Stories To Narrate

Locating stories to narrate isn’t hard especially with resources at your fingertips such as Project Gutenberg for public domain works. When tracking down fairy tales, seek the originals (likely to be hundreds of years old) or adaptations whose copyright has also expired.

Narrating, Recording And Editing

When you’re going through a manuscript, be sure to add markings that remind you when to breathe, add a pause, change characters and vary vocal inflection.

Note any changes in roles such as when the narrator is speaking versus when characters are speaking if applicable. If there are multiple characters with speaking roles, be sure to give them unique voices and ways of communicating. You might want to draw up a brief character sketch outlining the basics about each role so that you have a means to develop characters by fleshing out their individual traits, backgrounds, relationships, motivations and so on.

Being intellectually prepared for what you’re doing is just as important if not more so than being well rehearsed artistically. Knowing how to self-direct is critical to producing a fine work of art on your own.

The preparations you make before recording will save you lots of time when it comes to editing. On average it takes twice as long to edit as it does to record so keep that in mind. Some talent will put audio “markers” on their sessions to remind themselves of where they need to revisit the recording when editing. If you find this to be a useful technique, let me know!

Are You Narrating Fairy Tales?

If so, I’d love to hear from you! Also, if you found this article to be helpful to you, I’d appreciate a quick comment sharing what was of value to you personally.
Happy reading!
Best wishes,
iStockphoto.com/Melanie DeFazio

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  • Avatar for Howard Ellison
    Howard Ellison
    June 29, 2011, 10:08 am

    Timely tips, thankyou! I’m launching into one right now – 60,000 words, 12 characters, and the script has arrived at exactly the moment we move house and studio, cats, plants, green tea and throat balm. The usual constraints prevent a description of the story for now, but there’s magic in it. In every sense, I trust it will have a happy ending. It had better have.

  • Avatar for Michelle Beckner Norris
    Michelle Beckner Norris
    June 30, 2011, 11:54 am

    I was just talking to my husband about this. I just read the VOX article a couple days ago and loved the idea of recording fairy tales. We are new to the business. He’s the talent and I’m handling the business and editing end. This will give us great practice in recording and editing while also being a lot of fun. Plus, he has a masters in music and it will challenge him to compose music for the background. Going to go listen to your recordings now! Thank you both to Stephanie Ciccarelli for the article and Donald Conley for his posting in The Voice Acting Hub on Facebook!

  • Avatar for Stephanie Ciccarelli
    Stephanie Ciccarelli
    June 30, 2011, 11:56 am

    That’s wonderful news, Michelle! Thank you so much for sharing your story. I’d love to hear what you and your husband come up with. Please keep me posted 🙂

  • Avatar for Don Noble
    Don Noble
    July 5, 2011, 4:09 pm

    I started reading children’s stories and fairy tales over 20 years ago when my daughter was living apart from me. She still remembers the excitement of opening a package with a book and a tape. We plan to continue this with my grandchild.

  • Avatar for David Cook
    David Cook
    July 5, 2011, 4:10 pm

    Hi there – Not exactly fairy tales but I am now into a 3 week project narrating books for grades 4-7. Nice mix of fiction, history and science.
    Project is so huge, studio has 3 booths with engineers and VOs running pretty much all day every day.