Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Makings of a Bad Narrator

As most of you know, I listen to a lot of audio books. I’m fortunate enough to have a job that works well with me listening to novels that can sometime have racy language/text and no one will know because I have my own office.

There are some things that annoy the heck out of me with audio books, and I suspect some or all of these things I’m about to list is part of the reason some people don’t like listening to novels.

What makes a bad narrator?

I talk LOUD, I talk low.

This is the fluctuating voice. I’ve listened to audio books that force me to turn the volume down only to turn it way up because the narrator has gone from shouting to whispering in a matter of seconds. Here’s a hint, narrators, if the text calls for you to whisper…DON’T ACTUALLY WHISPER! We can’t hear you! There’s a way to mock whisper so we get the point and still hear important plot points. If you’re a man with a deep voice, talking low will making it virtually impossible to hear you. Has no one told them this?

Angry when I should be Sad.

Actually, you can insert any emotion in those two spots. Whatever it is, the narrator has gotten it wrong. I actually listened to a novel where the narrator was shouting at the love interest, sounding very angry, when he should’ve been scared and shaken. Somewhere toward the end of the monologue the narrator got it and killed the shouting, but the scene was just all messed up by then.

I Put the EmphAsis on the wrong SyllAble.

Mispronouncing words. Man, this gets me steamed. I don’t know what goes into being a narrator for an audio book, but I’d imagine it’s more than just walking into a studio, cracking open the book, clearing your throat and reading. Is there a run through? Do they get a chance to look over the text to get a feel for the characters, decide what voices to use? Figure out that you don’t pronounce short-lived with a long i. Hint, lived—long i—isn’t even a word. Hard to say names are one thing, but to mess up on everyday words just kills me and pulls me right out of the story cause I’m thinking, “Did you seriously just pronounce that word like that?”

Listening to the Paint Dry.

This is the dull voice that will even put someone hopped up on no-doze, red bull and espresso to sleep. I’ve never been able to listen to one of James Patterson’s novels because the narrator was like listening to the man from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. “Bueller, Bueller, Bueller….” Man, I’m falling asleep just thinking about it.

Oh No You Di’int.

This is where the narrator makes all black people sound like they just got off the plantation or out of the ghetto. I want to scream when I hear this. Maybe this annoys me most because I’m black. I kinda understand what they’re trying to do, inject soul into the voice, but if you can’t do it, then don’t try it. If the author has told us that the character is black or African American and doesn’t go out of their way to mention how this person speaks, doesn’t show it in their dialogue then DON’T DO IT! It’s offensive and just wrong. The novel I’m listening to now has a woman who is a dean at a private school for crying out loud, she would not speak like some chick out of the hood! I almost took the CD out, but the story is really good, and I’m hoping this character won’t reappear.

Okay, so now that I’m done with my rant. Any of you have these issues with audio books? Are any of these the reasons why you don’t listen to novels?


Jemi Fraser said...

This is hysterical Karen :)

I've only listened to a couple of audio books - and I've done those at school. I thought I'd try them with the kids. One of them was read by the author, another by someone they hired. In both cases, the kids hated it. They critiqued the speakers and mentioned pretty much everything on your list.

I've worked with them a lot on public speaking, and they were right on every count - they knew exactly what was wrong with each book.

In both cases, the kids asked if I would stop using the audio and read it myself. Reading aloud is not an easy skill to acquire. :)

I've never tried an audio book for myself because of these 2 books.

Solvang Sherrie said...

Oh, this is too funny :)

My kids have been getting the Percy Jackson books on cd from the library (we already read all the books) and I cannot stand the guy who reads them. His voice annoys me and he does these stereotypical accents. The kids in the story have grown up in the States. Just because the last name is Nakamura doesn't mean he's going to sound Japanese for crying out loud! Plus he made some of my favorite characters just sound stupid or mean. Whatever. I'm just glad I read the books or I would NOT like the story at all.

Sorry! Didn't mean to rant!

Natalie said...

I totally agree! Nothing ruins a great book faster than a lousy narrator. I listen to a lot of audio books. I love popping a book in when I clean the kitchen. But there are a few narrators I just can't stomach. I will try to suffer through a bad reading just to get the story, but I have had times when I've had to turn it off and read the rest.

Karen Denise said...

Jemi—One way to truly ruin an audio book (and something I forgot to add to my list) is when the author narrates. So I’m not surprised your kids hated it. Authors should just write the book and let someone else narrate it. I read my work out loud and I know that no one else would want me to hear me read it—not without taking some acting lessons. I’ve never listened to a novel narrated by the author that was good. Stephen King, Harlan Coben…terrible! And you’re right, public speaking is very hard and that’s why audio books should be left to actors, not just people who speak well.

Sherrie—Good thing you read the Percy Jackson books first. They are really good and I’d hate for them to be ruined because of a bad narrator. If you look on the back of most audio books, it lists a director. Wouldn’t this person say, “hey...don’t read that with a Japanese accent?” Or better yet, “let’s get the author on the phone and find out how this person is supposed to sound before you make him into a stereotype.” Now I’m very interested to know how that goes. I’m going to have to do research! Lol.

Natalie—I’m with you. I do try to suffer through a narrator, for the sake of the story, but sometimes it’s just impossible. I’ve been trying to get into Patricia Cornwell and thought I’d check out one of her first novels from the library. The narrator was so bad, I couldn’t get past disc one. She read like my grandmother when she has a hard candy in her mouth and has to swallow every few seconds. I listened to this woman pause in awkward places, looked at the 11 discs left to go and realized I just couldn’t lose 11 hours of my life with that. LOL.

Thanks for the comments guys!

Vatche said...

Interesting thoughts, Karen. I don't really listen to audio books, because I think that I won't understand the story as much since I'm not reading the words...and I might tune out on occasions. However, when reading a book, if I tune out, there is no need for a rewind button. :D

Awesome post and write on!

Vatche said...

Hey, Karen, just letting you know that you won an award over at my blog, so check that out! :D

Al said...

I agree bad narration is worse than frustrating!
Bottom line books need good editing - if they are presented as audio that means a whole extra layer of the editor's craft.

prashant said...

Interesting thoughts
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zz said...

I don't think I've listened to a fictional audio book since I was 11 years old - it was Disney's Beauty and the beast and yes I listened to it so many times that the cassette went flat. I feel so much more attached to a book if I read it and than listen to someone else read it. Plus I think I do this thing where i tune out and 20minutes will go by where I don't realise that I've stopped listening.

On a related note, is there an audio version of the bible with James Earl Jones as the narrator? If there is, I would listen to that and I would do what ever James Earl/God told me to do...

Mohamed Mughal said...

Do any of the narrators do mock-Indian accents? If not, I can step in for those portions of the audio :)

Cute post; great to meet a fellow Maryland writer,


Farah said...

I can't stand bad narrators! I don't listen to a whole lot of audiobooks and I actually will stop listening if I can't stand a reading. I think the narrator has to be a competent (voice?) actor to be able to read the books!