What I Will Teach, by Bronnie Pinchot

Why is audiobook narrating so appealing? Certainly not for the reason everyone who’s never done it (for instance, your Aunt June) thinks it is – which always boils down to something like “getting paid to sit in a chair and read.”

If you just ‘sit in a chair and read’ your sciatic nerves, your mental torpor, your dawning realization that there isn’t much air circulation in the booth at all, and your sixth sense that your engineer is actually trolling ebay looking for ukeleles because you are not electric enough to command his or her attention will crush your performance, not to mention your spirit, in approximately nine minutes. You will lurch out of the booth, bury your face in the trail mix and refuse to go back in under any circumstances, except a skinny-eyed look from Deb Deyan, the thought of which strikes terror into my heart even as I write this.

What you really will end up doing is launching yourself–and by extension your listener–onto a magic carpet ride. Roll your eyes all you want at this ‘story theater’ imagery; it’s true. Develop your own mantra for how to paint that picture with brushstrokes of fire, see the characters, more importantly–MUCH more importantly–see the world of the book through their eyes, see the narration not as linking tissue but as a character in and of itself, submerge yourself in the text like a scuba diver. Then you won’t want to come back to the surface. Well, except to pee.

If you practice, in a group of your peers–as I plan to do in my class–the skill of mining the text for signifiers, they will will light up the page and look for you.

What is a signifier? It’s an emotional signpost. 

Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities begins with a long series of attempts to describe the French Revolution:

Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities begins with a long series of attempts to describe the French Revolution:

Should you read it impressively, because it’s famous? Yes, if you want to replace Ambien as the world’s leading sleeping pill. 

Instead, look at is as a series of signposts: why is the greatest writer of his age trying again and again to describe his period, continually and rhythmically contradicting himself? Because he is realizing, in real time, that the period is simply too complex to describe in anything less than–the book itself. If you fall into step with him, with his punctuation, you will yourself get a bit overheated, almost nailing it, immediately undercutting it, and, in the process, launching the book in a bravura display–not of prose style–but of intention. The author’s real intention is “aching to describe the French Revolution in a phrase–and failing.” There is vulnerability in this, and a bit of self-effacing humor, and intellect. Those are the kernels of your narrator’s character. 

What about a simple dedication? Mine it! These few words represent the author deliberately speaking in his or her own voice. You can be affectionate, wry, tender, rueful. You can and must make a point of connecting with that auditor who has just put on his or her earphones. Once you get the hang of it, the words really do become like musical notation on a staff. It can be learned; just like sight-reading music.

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Deyan Institute of Voice Artistry and Technology

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