Audio Styles

Do you have a preference for your audiobook narration? Today, Kim and I will talk a bit about our preferences and what differences these production choices make.

Up until recently, the only audiobooks I had ever listened to (that I can remember) were single-voiced.  One person narrated all characters, with varying success.  Some narrators chose to differentiate each character’s voice drastically, while others changed their voice only slightly, if at all.  I honestly didn’t even know that audiobooks existed where each character was voiced by a different person until a few months ago.  My first experience with a fully-voiced audiobook was Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, which I’ll be reviewing later today.

Even more recently, I’ve ventured into listening to books narrated by multiple characters – and thus voiced by different narrators.  Make sense?  What I’m referring to is Edith Pattou’s East, which shifts perspective from character to character with each chapter.  It’s an interesting way of writing a book and a really interesting way of listening to it.  Each character speaks within the other characters’ sections, so the listener hears how each character interprets the other.  This is the kind of insight into characters that is really unique to audiobooks – it’s impossible to understand from a print book that a daughter hears her father’s voice as gentle while a son may hear it in harsher tones (unless of course it’s spelled out for you in the text).

I don’t think I really have a preference when it comes to one vs. multiple voices, provided the narration is expressive and paints a picture in my mind.  What I do prefer, however, is for the audiobook to be – by and large – free of sound effects.  Music to divide chapters is generally okay, but anything beyond that is just excessive (and so cheesy it makes me cringe).  Audiobooks should be a faithful presentation of the text, and added noise of thunderstorms or horse’s hooves is inauthentic to the story the author has written. (Of course, there’s an exception to every rule, and I have to say that Feed used sound effects in a really effective way.)

I haven’t listened to enough audiobooks to have a clear preference on what style I prefer, quite frankly. I had the opportunity to meet a producer and a couple of readers from the Full Cast company, and I loved getting an insider’s look at how these books are put together. The example they showed us was from Lisa Mantchev’s Eyes Like Stars, and while I haven’t been able to pick it up to listen to yet, I was impressed with how much like reader’s theater it was. For a book about life in the theater, I would think it essential to employ a full cast.

I got a real kick out of the use of multiple narrators for Stockett’s The Help. Three narrators take turns as the main characters, and a fourth narrator is introduced during a couple of pivotal, non-charactered scenes. I thought for this book, it was necessary to use the different voices, as the women were of different ages and races, something that would never have worked as a single reader. Despite loving the production, I still found some of the choices didn’t work for me.

What I get a kick out of, though, are partially-voiced audiobooks. I love when one reader provides the voices for a few of the main characters in a story — but only if the book is told from the first person perspective. If a story is told through the eyes of one character, using just one reader seems to fit better, and by partially voicing it, we are able to get a true insight into the main character. We know, for example, that the main character thinks he has a whiny-sounding sister or that the mom always sounds regal. The Art of Racing in the Rain, told partially voiced from the dog’s perspective, worked well for me, too.

I guess for me the preference falls to the story itself. Does it lend itself to a full cast better than a single narrator? Does it require drastically different sounding readers for the different parts? These are the things I think about when listening and that ultimately helps decide whether the book’s been successful to me as a listener.

Do you have a preference? We’d like to hear! Share your thoughts below.

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  1. says

    I think multiple narrators can work very well for some books. Other times it can be annoying, especially if one reader is much better than the other(s).

    I enjoyed Pullman's books on audio,too.

  2. says

    I've listened to two audiobook that had multiple narrators. One was easy to follow as it was boy/girl. The other one was multiple characters and until I learned the voices I had no idea who was talking. Thankfully, I had the print book and could figure it out easily.

  3. says

    So far, I haven't listened to any audiobooks that are voiced by more than one person. I'd like to try it, though, to see how it works for me!

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