Audiobooks are a godsend when it comes to long commutes. If you’re driving less than half an hour to work, music is better. Anywhere from 30-60 minutes it depends. If your drive is an hour or more, though, audiobooks can keep you sane. In fact, they can give you something to look forward to on your commute. No surprise, but I’ve been listening to a lot of audiobooks over the past few years.

There is more to an audiobook than some guy reading the book to you. In the good ones, the actor or actress can come up with good voices for the characters that are distinct enough that you can tell them apart even without every line ending in “he said” and “she said”. It’s also helpful to have a good voice to match the overall tone and mood of the book and/or its narrator. It’s interesting the different way that different producers have approached this:

Most Audiobooks: Have a man or woman doing the reading depending on who the narrator is or main character is. Typically, their voice works best for the main character, but the actors are versatile enough that it’s not a distraction when they’re reading other parts, regardless of gender and ethnicity. Special props go out to the narrator of Richard North Patterson’s “Protect and Defend” for being able to produce different, geographically appropriate southern accents. The main reader for most of Scott Turow’s books also has a special gift for differing voices with different ethnicities without sounding condescending or cartoonish. The one Turow book (so far) read by someone else had the absolute perfect actor for the part of the narrator. In the Discworld series, the narrator sounds like you would imagine Terry Pratchett himself sounding. That works, too.

Harry Potter Series: Read by Jim Dale or Stephen Fry, depending on which version you’re listening to. Since HP is ostensibly a series of children’s book, having a grandfatherly voice reading it works pretty well. It’s easy to overlook the man’s voice dedicated to the female characters because it’s all part of bedtime storytime as you listen.

Ender’s Game Series: This was a particularly novel approach. Each book has numerous voices reading the book. Different sections are read by different people. The ones that focus on female characters are read by women and the same for men. Though Orson Scott Card writes in the third person, it tends to be the limited third person so each one is told from the point of view of the character and the language is altered accordingly. But the female reader for the Valentine-centric scenes also reads the parts for Ender or Peter or whoever. So it’s this odd sort of thing where each character’s lines are read by half-a-dozen readers. Sometimes during dialogue is split between the actors. It’s all really skillfully done. It’s one of those things that I couldn’t imagine it working if it were described to me, but it may well be my favorite format.

Graphic Audio: Graphic Audio bills itself as a “movie in your mind” so it’s only one-part audiobook while being another part radio show. Unlike most audiobooks, there are sound effects and music. There are a lot of actors and each of the main characters seems to get their own and the narrator is a voice unto himself. But unlike a radio show, there is description of action. The narration and music makes for a really neat combination and makes what would seem difficult (putting a comic book to audio) very compelling.

Old-Time and BBC Radio: When I was a kid I was a big fan of old radio shows that would come on a local news radio channel from 8-10 on Sunday nights. For my birthday I would get Shadow cassettes. I enjoyed them greatly, but without narration it’s a tough format. Particularly for anything that has action, wherein you’re left with characters saying things like “Look, he’s going at Jerry with a knife! Keep evading him, Jerry! Go! Go! Go!” Interestingly enough, this could be the type of broadcast that I would be most suitable to write since I’ve always been very dialogue-driven, but it’s really a small sandbox with which to work.

Category: Road, Theater

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4 Responses to Voicing Text

  1. Barry says:

    I love listening to audiobooks. My commute is less than 30 minutes, but the smaller chunks of story don’t bother me – I am usually reading 2-3 books at a time anyway so I have no trouble keeping the plot threads separate.

    I check them out from the library, so there’s not as good a selection as you might purchase from a store but I figure purchasing is a waste as I’ll likely never listen to it again the way I’ll read a good book again and again.

    My favorite type of audiobook to listen to is the mystery/adventure novel, something like from Jack De Brul or Michael Crichton. I find sci-fi sometimes to be tedious because of the jargon and elaborate scenarios that, when reading the book itself, often require me to go back and re-read passages that explain concepts used later on. I’m listening to a book now called “Blindsight” that’s about a ship sent from Earth to investigate an alien presence out in the solar system. It’s very tedious in a cerebral kind of way so I’m not having a great time.

    I’ve found several of my favorite authors through audiobooks: Stephen White, Lawrence Block, Carolyn Hart, etc.

  2. trumwill says:

    That’s interesting about Stephen White. I was trying to get some White audiobooks when I was in Santomas because I wanted to go through them again, but couldn’t find them.

    It’s not free, but Recorded Books has a subscription program. I’ve been thinking of taking advantage of that.

    Re-“reading” audiobooks is actually more fruitful in my experience than re-reading regular books. I think that I tend to miss a little more of what’s going on in the audio format and it’s harder to navigate backwards to catch what might have been missed.

  3. Barry says:

    The first one I ever read/listened to of his was “Cold Case”. Since all his novels are very sequential (refer to past events a lot, have the recurring characters grow and change and die off, I went back and read all the others from the very beginning. I’m looking forward to the new one in the late summer.

    Can you (or anyone) recommend other authors of that genre? Mysteries with a little action, but a good deal of character study. Plus recurring characters that form its own little world…

  4. trumwill says:

    I’m listening to Scott Turow now and hardily recommend him. Each of the novels (so far) have different protagonists, though they’re all interconnected. One of the fun aspects is to play “Identify that character”. For instance, just this morning the book I’m listening to now had a passing-through character that was the antagonist in a previous book. The lawyer that the protagonist in the first novel hired is the narrator of the second novel. A character from the second novel is a narrator in the fourth. And so on. Not much in the way of action, though. More cop/lawyer drama. Great characters.

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