The Narrative Voice

In audiobooks, the narrative voice refers to the voice of whoever is telling the story. The most common narrative voice in fiction is the 3rd person narrative, but 1st person narrative is also used; in non-fiction many books are written in the 2nd person narrative – but in autobiography and memoir, obviously the first person narrative voice is used.

What does all this mean? And how, as narrators, do we approach these different narrative voices?

And importantly – how to we ensure that we stay engaged and connected with the text so that the listener is drawn into the story and remains fully involved and connected throughout?

As a storyteller, it’s imperative that you understand the author’s intellectual intentions. But you can’t ‘act’ understanding. No matter how well you understand the meaning of a piece of literature, or a piece of poetry and no matter how much you intellectually appreciate a genre, that intellectual understanding is ‘unplayable’. As a narrator, you must focus not just on what the words mean, but on what they feel like. It’s like knowing acting and voice technique – once you have the understanding of the techniques of speech for example, once you understand it, you must forget it, so that it becomes second nature. Technique of any kind should never impinge on your performance.
Your job is to create an emotional connection as you read – you are a conduit between the author and the listener. You need to delve into the text – you need to find the emotion, the action and reaction – you need to engage fully with that text and bring it to life. Your technique will help you to do that, but if you only have technique and have made no connection to the read, then no matter how slick, how competent and how technically perfect your read might be, you will not have any emotional connection with the text and therefore the listener will not have any emotional connection with it either. And this connection must be throughout the book – not just when you’re playing the characters. So let’s examine the narrative voices in more detail.

First Person Narrative

…is used when it’s the main character telling the story. The listener can only experience the story through this person’s eyes, so everything that is revealed about events and other characters will be coloured by the character’s personal knowledge and experience. This is the most immediate type of narration for audiobooks. You find the character, you find their voice and everything springs from there. You are the person telling the story. 

Third Person Narrative

…is used when a story is told without using ‘I’ or ‘we’ (other than in dialogue). Within these parameters, there are different kinds of third person narrative voice: The third person limited means that the narrative POV is limited to only one character, so the narrator and listener only know what the character knows. The third person multiple is still the he/she/it type of narration, but now the narrator is following the story via multiple characters. The third person omniscient again used he, she and it but now the narrator knows everything.

The Second Person Narrative

is usually instructional, so more frequently found in non-fiction reads, particularly in self-help books and those offering support and advice. 

There is a real skill in creating a compelling and appealing narrative voice – and there are also various opinions as to how involved emotionally and vocally the narrative voice should be. Some listeners and producers prefer a voice that is rather disengaged, rather more of a commentary – while others want a fully immersive narrative voice. Some of this depends on the genre of the book – but also where its produced. 

What is important is that no matter in which narrative voice a book is written, you, the narrator, make the words your own. You’re connected and committed and you read appears effortless, spontaneous and totally natural.

This text is a precis of a section of the coursework for my new Audiobook Narrator Coaching Course. More details will follow in due course … watch this space!