This week I want to discuss the different styles of narration used in audiobooks. After doing a bit of research, I discovered there isn’t a lot of information out there, or perhaps it just isn’t that easy to find. Here is what I’ve pieced together.
Types of Narration Styles
Generally there two classifications of narration: solo and multicast. In a solo production, one voice actor narrates the entire book, whereas with a multicast production two or more voice actors read the book. For more detail, let’s break this down.
Solo Narration: One narrator performs the entire book, regardless of the point of view (POV).
Dual Narration*: In works where the POV changes, usually at the end of a section or chapter, two (or more) narrators will split the job and narrate the sections associated with their character’s POV. Each narrator still voices all characters, since they are all telling the story from their own POV.
Duet Narration*: With this style, two (or more) narrators interact throughout the story, each narrator always voicing the lines and thoughts of their own characters, regardless of the POV.
Full Cast Narration*: Also known as Cinematic Narration, this style employs multiple voice actors, giving each character its own unique voice, and dialog indicators/tags (i.e. said, questioned, answered) are removed from the text. Additionally, sound effects (FX, Foley Art, etc.) are typically added to help further the narrative, giving the production a more “cinematic” feel.
*source: Spoken Realms
In my research, I also found multiple references regarding the reading styles that are used when voicing a book. While these aren’t defined types of narration, I find the terms useful in furthering a discussion about narration. Much of this information was pieced together from a multitude of sites, including Goodreads forums, voices.com, quora.com and various blogs. Here is a brief description of these reading styles:
Fully-Voiced Reading: This is a style in which all of the characters are vocalized in a a way that makes the characters distinguishable from one another.
Partially-Voiced Reading: A partially-voiced reading is one where the narrator focuses on giving certain characters a distinguishable voice – most commonly the protagonists – while the remaining characters, including the narrator, are less distinguishable from one another.
Unvoiced Readings: In this reading style, the narrator reads the story in a natural, more straightforward tone. There are no changes in voice for different characters.
My observations and opinions:
I’ve noticed that certain genres tend to lend themselves better to one type of narrative style over another. For example, in romances where the POV changes between two characters, I prefer dual narration, especially in books with each changing POV is shared from the first person POV. Hearing two different narrators helps me “get into character” when the POV alternates back and forth.
While I’ve listened to and enjoyed many multiple POV books using a single narrator, I generally prefer distinct voices for the different POVs. The solo performances that are most effective when the POV changes are ones that alter the narrator voice with each POV. One of the most successful solo, fully-voiced performances I can think of is by Lorelei Avalon in the first two Off-Campus books by Elle Kennedy. She masterfully alters her narrative voice to fit the POV of each character.
On the other hand, urban fantasy titles are generally told from a single, first-person POV, which is why a solo performance works best. In this case, the narrator is the protagonist, and therefore, should remain constant while placing me, the listener, inside the head of that character. I enjoy the audiobook most when the narrator then gives unique voices to the supporting characters, making it feel like a cast of many reading to me. Two of my favorite narrators, James Marsters and Lorelei King, are masters at the first person POV fully-voiced performance for urban fantasy titles.
My least favorite style is the unvoiced reading. I recall listening to Wil Wheaton read Redshirts by John Scalzi and how disappointed I was with his performance. To me, his production sounded like he was just reading the book out loud, rather than performing the story, which is what I prefer when listening to an audiobook.
Brief Q & A with Karen White
Karen White is one of my favorite narrators. I’ve enjoyed her work as a solo performer in Jill Shalvis’s Animal Magnetism series and more recently in her dual performance with Joe Arden in Stud in the Stacks by Pippa Grant.
JEN: As a narrator, do you have a style of narration you prefer to perform? And is it dependent on the genre of the book?
KW: To me, the performance style is always dictated by the book. I have the good fortune to work in multiple genres, but it does mean that I have to really switch gears from book to book and let each one’s tone and writing style guide my choices. Each book creates a world, even if it’s non-fiction, and my voicing of it has to reflect that world, or it won’t sound right. It will feel like I’m a complete mismatch for the book. Because I started in the previous century, when almost all books (except children’s books) were recorded as if the narrator were reading a story, rather than today’s performing a one-person show, I am probably more conservative than a newer narrator who moved from performing say, animation. Also, some narrators are just more vocally elastic than others, just like some stage and film actors transform themselves more fully from role to role. That’s why you might hear a range of styles even within one genre.
To me the most fun is when a non-fiction book has such great storytelling that it begs to be read with vocal differentiation. My favorite example of this was Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott, a history of four women who were influential during the Civil War.
JEN: Is the narration style for a book dictated to you by the producer/author/etc. or do you have input on the style?
KW: Occasionally a rights holder will give direction, and sometimes I ask if I’m unsure of how to proceed, but it’s mostly on me, especially since I self-direct for the most part these days. Earlier in my career, where I worked with a director in a studio, it was collaborative.
JEN: Thanks so much, Karen, for stopping by and your assistance in the writing/research of this post!
So what about you? What are your preferred narrative styles? Do you find you like different styles based on the genre or POVs?
Thanks for stopping by!
P.S. There are several of us audiophiles out there, and we like to talk about audiobooks. So I’m going to try and feature more “Let’s Talk About” posts in the next few months. I’d love your feedback or suggestions on topics; please email me at twimom227 (at) gmail (dot) com or leave a comment below with your suggestion!