Creating a Fiction Audiobook
In this blog, we're going to talk about reading, preparing, and recording a fiction audiobook.
Now, I am still learning for myself the ways in which I want to approach my audiobook work, not to mention growing my skills in terms of accents and narrators voices, but I think it's worth exploring this wonderful process and examining just how rewarding it can be, not to mention challenging. So let's jump in!
So, an author, producer, casting person or production house has chosen you to bring their book to life, so what's the first step?
Well, I guess that's pretty obvious isn't it, reading the book! However, one thing I learned from the wonderful Helen Lloyd (in fact most of what I know about audiobooks I learned from the wonderful Helen after completing her very in-depth course) is to just read the book. And by that I mean read it as a reader, read it for pleasure and enjoy the story, take the narrator hat off, and just enjoy the book. Even if it's a book you might not normally enjoy, I think that reading the book from cover to cover without constantly taking notes or practicing character voices is an important part of the process for really understanding the story.
A lot of people ask me if I enjoy everything that I narrate, which I think is a weird question. Do you enjoy every book you pick up? Inevitably your going to come across some books that aren't to your personal taste, so I think you then have to find joy in the process of narration, and bringing the people to life.
Ok, so you've read the book, now I know some narrators who might end up reading the book 3 or 4 times before they actually step into the booth, but for the sake of this blog let's plow on with the preparation.
So how do we break down the book, get to know the text and characters, and bring it all to life? Well everyone is different, but when I begin my second reading of the book, I start to take notes about the following things: (in a separate book, not on the manuscript)
- Who is the narrator? What should they sound like, and from what perspective is the story told?
- What's the pace of the narration, and should it change at any point? Is it measured, level, is it frenetic in places, does it have an underlying energy, is it bubbling, exciting, slow, or mysterious?
- The main characters: who are they? Why are they connected? What do they want? What problems are they in? Where are they from?
- What are the key moments that move the story forward? And what are the moments that reveal more to us about the people involved?
And as I continue on the second reading, I start to make small recordings of dialogue to experiment with the character voices, normally trying out something pretty conventional, and then trying something wildly out there. I keep all the recordings in a folder for that character until I have settled on their voice.
Now this is not something you have to do, and it's not always something I do in abundance, but for most books I like to have what I call a little rehearsal period. Sometimes this consists of half a day, and sometimes it goes on for a couple weeks. This is also dependant on the type of book, the budget, and the turnaround time.
During this period, I like to do two things, firstly, I like to rehearse specific parts of the book that involve many characters, difficult emotional beats, moments that require lots of changes or shifts, or anything really that seems more complex. Secondly, I like to improvise with the characters, and see how this changes their voices. Obviously we're trying to create very distinct people in terms of their sound, but that can't come from just making a funny voice, it has to come from their bodies, their background, and how they approach the world. So by throwing them into little improvs, we get to know them better, and in turn we have a clear and strong understanding of how they sound.
Ok, we've read the book, at least twice, we've prepared the characters and who they are, and we've thought in depth about the narrators voice and perspective, we're ready to record!
If I'm self recording, I try to treat the process exactly the same as if I am working in a studio, or with a director via my home studio. That process means a set time, probably from 10 am until 5 pm, with regular 10-15 minute breaks, and a lunch break in the middle. And the general rule tends to be that for every hour I spend recording, I should have 30 minutes of useable material. I always try to re-create the process of working with a director or studio if I am producing the book alone, to ensure consistency in the audio, and maximising the time that you have to spend recording the book.
Working with a director is always lovely, because they can give you real time feedback as you bring the book to life, and in my experience they are always a helping hand in honouring your vision, but lets face it, having a second pair of ears on your character voices, on your interpretation, can never be a bad thing, so when that happens, welcome the critique, and work hard to listen to the feedback.
Well, now you have an audiobook! Of course the book then has to be edited and mastered, which is not something we're going to talk about in this blog. And when working with a studio or a producer, it's not a process that the narrator would do anyway.
One of the main things that I took away from my audiobook training, and that I try to take into all my work, is that the characters have to live in the real world, they can't just be amorphous voices that chime in, they have to have physicality and a history.
Good luck with your audiobook adventures!
Happy Voicing Folks,