Narrating a Fictional Audiobook

I had the pleasure of narrating a fictional audiobook recently. It was called Crime Components: Arizona Homicide Files, Book 1 by Rena Winters. (This is an Audible book for sale on Amazon.)

The book is a crime thriller, based on true events as told by a real-life reporter named Gene McLane. I’ve narrated fiction before, but the approach is not always the same, at least for me.

Let me break down some steps any narrator of long form fiction should consider:

1. Read the work before you start to narrate. Skimming through the entire work might be valid for an experienced narrator, and with non-fiction subjects in particular, but unless you’ve really read the work through you can’t properly voice the nuances of thought, perception, and dialogue of characters, and one risks misinterpreting how to voice the whole. Crime Components is a thriller, and a mystery. I needed to be careful with characters who might not be whom they seemed to be.

2. Point of View. Fiction can be told in the first person, typically voiced by the main character; in the second person, addressed to you the reader directly; or from the third person, from multiple characters, typically steered or directed by an omniscient voice of the narrator whether it be the author, or be an all-knowing character within the story. Crime Components is mostly told from the first person of Gene McLane, except for the introductory preface and prologue. Knowing this meant that I would need to voice at the very least a narrator, as well as Gene McLane. Those voices would need to be immediately distinguishable from one another.

3. Now consider: How much of the work you’re voicing is dialogue? And how many characters have dialogue? This is important! Know what you’re getting into. Voicing Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe is much less daunting than Dickens’ Pickwick Papers (or just about any Dickens novel, come to think of it) if just because of having to track a large cast of characters. Crime Components was a trickier assignment than it first might seem because the main character (no spoiler) is a reporter. And to get a story, reporters tend to interview people. It’s what they do! I went through each page of the book, searching for quote marks ( “ ), and noted down each character’s name, and how many scenes they appeared in. There were 62 separate speakers in the book. Yikes.

4. ‘Major Voices’ and ‘Minor Voices’. I decided that the characters who were in at least 5 scenes and/or had the longest blocks of dialogue or speeches were the major voices of the pieces, and those with less were minor voices. That gave me roughly 11 major voices. Those voices would need to be the most recognizable throughout the piece, so that when their characters reappear the listener makes the connection of who is speaking much more quickly than just name recognition would provide. 

And that step led to one of the most important decisions I made…

5. Do I voice the book with a generic American voice as the main character, or in a specific voice or accent for the main character? I had prepared and practiced a voice I liked the sound of from a different project that fell through. I began using this voice (a fairly nice gruff-sounding voice of a tired reporter) for the audition and the fifteen-minute check in (which the author and publisher approved). I had started off with a good voice, and recorded and edited the first seven chapters but to be honest the voice sounded New York, and the book was set in Phoenix, almost a continent away, and in an era before regional accents had been homogenized to some extent by national news anchors and television broadcasts. It bothered me. I did some research, made some inquiries and got to listen to a clip of the actual Gene McLain speaking. He sounded Texan. I blended my interpretation of that voice with a couple of other ideas in my head, and made sure the voice was easy enough for me to do continually and stay in character.

6. I re-recorded the fifteen-minute check in using the new voice, and Ms. Winters and Next Chapter Audio were kind enough to approve the new character voice. I happily re-recorded the opening chapters, and then the rest of the book.  I voiced the other major voices just as prominently as I did the main character. Some listeners prefer to have less pronounced voices, or subtler ones in fictional reads, an approach I have done before. For Crime Components, I thought that the story itself worked better as a story with well-established voices for the characters. Fiction where the characters are not heavily voiced work better with dialogue-light books, where the word play of the work does more of the heavy lifting. Actions speak louder than words! As it were.

At least in my somewhat informed opinion. I hope you’ll consider checking the book out, and let me know what you think of the audiobook version of the book. Please remember that any defects you may find are of my own making, and are not the author’s.

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