As a narrator you’re a storyteller, which isn’t always as easy as it looks or sounds. You have to consider the who, what, when, where, why, and how as they pertain to the story in general, the characters, the context, and so on. In a way, you may find that you’re just as much a researcher as you are a storyteller. Knowing everything there is to know about the story you are telling provides a solid foundation for every word that you speak.
Think of yourself as a detective of sorts and use the text as your guide when seeking clues about the author’s intent and how you can best communicate what the author prepared for you and the intended audience. Although punctuation is important as you communicate to the audience, don’t let punctuation dictate all that your voice must do. Use inflection to color words in order to authentically express what the author has in mind.
As you tell a story, consider how you will design unique character voices that suit each role and give your characters diverse vocal traits that set them apart so the listening audience can distinguish them. This task can be fun, especially if you have several characters to voice. The author tends to help you with the clues presented in the book. The author is your greatest ally when it comes to creating believable characters. Creating a variety of characters is easier when you know what you can do to differentiate them from each other, especially vocally.
Keeping the voices as separate as possible can help you to more clearly remember what each character sounds like and why they sound the way they do. Great narrators consider the following criteria to shape and differentiate the voices of their characters in a book:
- Gender: Before you hit record, you need to consider what the gender of each character is so that you can shape how they all sound. If you’re reading for characters who are the opposite gender, consider how you would speak. If you’re a man, how would you voice female characters? If you’re a woman, how would you voice male characters? Good narrators are able to utilize their vocal range. Men sometimes need to speak slightly higher when voicing females and women generally deepen their voices by using the lower end of their range to voice male characters. The falsetto voice (think the Beach Boys) isn’t necessarily the best way to go for men voicing women, although using the upper register with a lighter tone and different vocal placement may do the trick.
- Pitch: Everyone has a natural vocal range where they normally speak, sometimes referred to in singing as tessitura. Think about where your character’s speaking voice rests and where it’s more comfortable. You can use pitch to differentiate characters. Just make sure that you’re comfortable performing in the vocal range that you have assigned to each character. You can also use pitch to express emotion. The higher the pitch is, the more emotional the audience may perceive a read.
- Accent: Giving characters accents is a wonderful way to make them stand out and inform the character’s identity. Make sure that the accent is believable and consistent throughout the audiobook. Many voice actors work with accent and dialect coaches to master new accents to add to their repertoire.
- Qualities: Believable characters are important. In order to be believable, you need to know the characters inside out. Give each character his or her own set of qualities. List those qualities and use them as tools to shape how you read for each particular character. For example, if one of your characters has a kind temperament, speak kindly and with care. You’ll also want to consider physical qualities. If your character has dentures for instance, you’ll need to learn how to speak as one who has a set of dentures.
Look for clues about the characters that may tell you how they talk. How old are they? Do they have anything specific about their physicality that determines how they speak? Are they from a place that has a regional dialect you can tap into? If you want, you can also consider borrowing vocal traits from friends and family.
Knowing how the story ends
A good narrator also knows how the story will end. To do so, the narrator reads the script before recording to have a good idea of how everything plays out before the audience does. As the narrator, you don’t want the ending to surprise you. The more you know, especially about how things turn out, the more convincing your read will be.
The more comfortable you are with telling a story, the greater the likelihood that your listeners will come along for the ride because they trust your knowledge as the narrator and are secure in where you’re headed. By starting your work with the end in sight, you can lead your listeners through the peaks and valleys of a well-woven tale and truly function as the omniscient narrator you are meant to be.
You never know when you might get caught off guard by something in the book that throws you for a loop. If you haven’t read through the book before creating a character voice, midway through the story, the author may give you a hint about that character, and suddenly you realize that the character you thought sounded one way is actually quite opposite.
Typically, narrators read through the book if the material is new to them given that they have time to do so. Sometimes a narrator doesn’t have to read the book before recording it, particularly when he or she is reading books in a series. After the narrator has read one or two of the books, he or she will have a good idea of the plot and characters.
Knowing how to tell the story is important as a narrator. Are you ready to learn more about voice acting? To discover more about this exciting field and about the book, visit VoiceActingForDummies.com.
About The Authors
Stephanie Ciccarelli and David Ciccarelli are the founders of Voices.com, the largest global web hub for voice actors. Over the past 9 years Stephanie, David, and their team have grown Voices.com from the ground up to become the leader in the industry. This article was originally published in Voice Acting For Dummies and has been republished with permission from John Wiley and Sons, Inc.