Narrator's Nook: Prepping a book for Audio
You might recall a little while ago when I told you I had just signed the contract to narrate Devour, a zombie apocalypse story by the very talented RL Blalock. I am a HUGE fan of The Walking Dead and anything with a strong female main character, so when this opportunity knocked I tore it’s hand off with my bare teeth!
This week I will start prepping the book for narration, and there’s tons of work that goes into a book before you even set foot in the booth to record it. Every narrator has their own process around how this works and I’m going to share mine to give you a little insight into how a book becomes an audiobook.
I’ll go through the process of how I pick a project in another post, so for now – here’s how I prep a fiction book…
Step 1: READ THE BOOK!
You’d be surprised how often this step is skipped. I read the book twice – the first time just for pleasure. I need to get a feel for the writing style, the dialogue and the characters. Why would they make that choice? How did they feel? I might make a few notes in this read through but generally I save that for step 3…
Step 2: Speak with the Author
Get in touch with the author, if you can. They may have character notes they can share with you, or can tell you important things like “this minor character in book one is actually the main character in book two” so you can plan accordingly and pick a voice for them that isn’t going to strain you after 4 hours straight. There may be fictional words that they will need to tell you how to pronounce (if they have a preference), like “D’axhar’ngi”. Ok I made that one up, but you get the point.
Step 3: Character Prep
Once I’ve finished the book and spoken with the author, I’ll get a notebook and a pen (it helps my brain to write this by hand instead of typing) and list out the speaking characters, making notes of any characteristics mentioned by the author, especially about their voice. I’ll also try out a few different voices until I settle on one that fits with the character I’ve built in my head. For Unbroken, my notes for Zunee looked like this: Zunee – female, late teens / early 20’s, head strong, stubborn, smart. Fiercely protective of her family. Soft but strident voice, slightly higher pitched, lightly accented. If I have time I’ll record a few lines in that character’s voice on my phone so I have a quick reference when I’m recording in the booth and can keep the characters consistent. Don’t worry I put the phone on mute!
Step 4: Chapter Notes
I normally combine this with step 3, but for our purposes I’ve separated it out so you can see how my work flow progresses. For this step I work through each chapter and list out the speaking characters, along with the notes I made on them in step 3. This way as I’m working through the book I have a quick reference of which voices I need to have on tap for each chapter. I will also include any hard to pronounce (or indeed entirely fictional) words and names so I can quickly refer back to the notes without losing too much time in recording. If there are a lot of characters I may also highlight dialogue for each in their assigned colour to give my brain a visual cue about what voice I should use. Fun fact – for me the main female character is always light blue, and the main male character is always light green. It just works with my brain *shrug*
Step 5: Pull it all Together
Now I’ve read the book, made notes for each character and have a few notes on speaking characters and word pronunciations for each chapter, and maybe even voice reference files for a few of them. As I get ready to start each chapter I will review the notes that I made for that chapter, and go into the session knowing who is speaking and what words I need to be careful of. The only thing left is to start recording!
So that’s how I prep a book. Fun stuff huh?