What makes a great narrator? #JIAM | Fun Questions

June 28, 2014 Fun Questions 16


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Since June Is Audiobook Month – and you know that’s a BIG deal in my world – I couldn’t let it pass without a little celebration! So for the month of June, Saturday’s Fun Question Posts have been taken over by audiobook related themes. And I’ll be giving away ONE AUDIBLE AUDIOBOOK of your choice at the end of the month (see rafflecopter below to enter). This is open in the US & Canada only (since I don’t think you can get Audible books International).

Anyway, join me every Saturday as I ask a Fun Question that’s been on my mind. I’ll give you my take, but I really hope you’ll jump in with your answers too, since I’m really curious to know what my fellow readers and bloggers think! So today’s question is…

What makes a great narrator?

This is a question I ask myself every time I write a review for an audiobook. I know if I had a good, great, or just ok listening experience, but nailing down the why can be a bit elusive. Sometimes it just didn’t FEEL great. But I think most audiobook junkies would agree that finding a great narrator is probably the difference of tolerating, liking, and LOVING audiobooks. The narrator makes or breaks it! And… I think there’s definitely a bit of room for personal taste. If I love a narrator, you might just like them or even hate them. That being said, there are some things I think makes a narrator great:

The voices!

I know, this is a duh! point, but also one of the most important. A good narrator has a variety of voices for the different characters. Hell, even the worst narrator understands this point and gives the different characters some variety in voices. But a GREAT narrator infuses the voices with personality – a personality that FITS THE CHARACTER. I can’t stress this point enough. You may not be able to put your finger on it, but from time to time you’ll listen to a book and think there’s something not quite right about that voice. I bet it’s because the voice doesn’t fit the character. If my character has a funny, spunky attitude and deep, serious voice, it doesn’t matter how well the narrator does that voice, it’s just wrong!

A great narrator who I think nails the voices: Amanda Ronconi

The accents!

This goes hand in hand with the voices, but I have to separate it because their are plenty of narrators I’ve read who are flipping fantastic at voices and then get taken down by an accent. And I think the reality behind this is just that accents are HARD and yet 100% IMPORTANT. I recently read a series where the narrator did a really good job most the time and then the characters end up talking to some Mexicans. She tanked so bad – I laughed my ass off! It was just bad! But then I’ve read series where each book brings in yet another accent and I’ve literally been in awe at the narrators ability to nail yet another accent! I should mention that IMHO machines have accents! If you listen to anything that has talking machines or robots you’ll understand what I mean – it just sounds wrong if they don’t have a bit of a tin to their voice and a great narrator gets that and delivers.

A great narrator who I think nails the accents: Rebecca Soler

The ability to be androgynous!

Am I beating a dead horse? Is this still voice to you? Well, yeah I guess it is, but it’s such a BIG factor that it deserves a heading of it’s own. See I’ve read really really good narrators who are GREAT at all the above for characters of their gender but then they have to go to the other side and BAM! they’re not so good anymore. In reality, most narrators I’ve read are great at one gender and good at the other. Most female narrators can’t quite nail a deep male voice and most male narrators’ female voices have a bit of a falsetto. It’s totally not a deal breaker for me, but a GREAT narrator nails both genders!

A great narrator who I think nails both genders:: Bahni Turpin


Depending on how you listen, pacing can be a null point since you can often change the speed of your playback. But in my opinion, a great narrator has the right pace from the get-go. If I speed up a great narrator, it’s because I’m in a hurry, not because their pacing was off. To an extent, pacing should fit the character and tone of the story. Great narrators change their pace a bit within the book, adding a certain amount of anxiousness to exciting scenes and slowing down when it’s over. For me personally, though, nothing’s more annoying than narration that’s too slow. Even if it’s mood appropriate, there’s a point where you’re going too slow. Long pauses, where I even wonder if I’ve hit the pause button by accident are a real pet peeve of mine. That’s just too slow! This is especially important for books that have a poetic cadence to them. The pace the words are spoken makes all the world of difference!

A great narrator who I think nails the pacing: Kate Simses


This is something that I think most narrators are really good at honestly. But it doesn’t change that it’s really important. If you give a character a specific voice, please please please don’t change it. Not even a little bit, k? I think this is probably most challenging for narrators who read series – since there’s a lot of space between recording books. But from my experience, 9 out of 10 narrators get this right every time. But you can’t be a great narrator in my book if you don’t! The one exception would be series that change the point of view the book is being told from – in that case, I’m okay with the MCs voice changing a bit to make the whole book flow better.

A great narrator who I think nails consistency: Lauren Fortang


One of the best treats about listening to an audiobooks is having all those words you would stumble over while reading pronounced correctly for you. So if you’re listening to an audiobook and you KNOW they’re pronouncing something wrong – like a character’s name- that’s really really annoying. But when you’re listening to a series where there’s lot of slang that you JUST KNOW you would have tripped all over, it’s really great to have a narrator who knows how to make it come to life and just feel natural. Here’s a big way they can help the author bring the world to life – if you’re stumbling over words there’s a barrier between you and the world you’re reading. But if the words are flowing off the narrators tongue naturally, you’re there! You’ve been transported. I find this particularly true for the Downside Ghosts series, which is why there’s no doubt that Bahni Turpin (listed above for both genders) nails pronunciation too. But since I already mentioned her, I’ll give you another one 🙂

A great narrator who I think nails pronunciation: Marguerite Gavin

Of course, just because I mentioned a narrator in one heading doesn’t mean they aren’t good in other areas too. Most these narrators nail every single aspect I’ve listed, which is why I consider them my favorite narrators (so far). But some books have given narrators an opportunity to stand out in some areas above others. Click on their names to see the great books they’ve narrated!

And to wrap up this month’s audiobook celebration I have a final opportunity to enter the giveaway for ONE AUDIBLE AUDIOBOOK of your choice. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

What makes a great narrator in your opinion? Who are your favorites?

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About Berls
Berls has been a book lover her whole life. She reads pretty much every genre and is currently working hard at making her childhood dream of becoming an author come true. She loves sharing her thoughts about books, blogging, and just random fun stuff. She's a challenge and read-a-thon junkie, so it's no wonder that she loves co-hosting the COYER reading challenge. Leave a comment, Berls is always happy to chat!

16 Responses to “What makes a great narrator? #JIAM | Fun Questions”

  1. Rose C.

    really great post! I love listening to Audio books! I have a few narrators that I really enjoy. One is Davina Porter of the Outlander series. I also like Zachary Webber. and my all time fave narrators, I would listen to her read the assembly manual of my new treadmill IN SPANISH (i do not know if she even speaks spanish, just saying) is Kate Rudd. She read John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars. I love her voice. She also narrated two other series that I love, The Breathing Trilogy by Rebecca Donovan and Between the Lines Series by Tammara Webber.
    Rose C. recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I Would Want With Me On A Deserted Island – July 22, 2014My Profile

    • Berls

      LOL I guess I seriously need to check out Kate Rudd! I have the Fault in Our Stars in paperback (haven’t managed to read yet) so I probably won’t listen to that one. But I’ll have to check out her audible page 🙂
      Berls recently posted…Teaser Tuesdays | Dissonance TeaserMy Profile

  2. Julie S.

    YES! To all of these yes. The voice has to be pleasant, and also do the voices of each character differently, and nail the accents, and the boy and girl voices. And yes pacing is so important too. Don’t draw it out and make me bored. But can we also add breathing? There’s one narrator that cuts sentences in half (I’m guessing to breathe) but it comes out sounding weird. Emma Galvin is her name. I just had to look her up.
    Julie S. recently posted…Blitz: BLUE SKY DAYS – proceeds donated to Canadian Cancer SocietyMy Profile

  3. Stormi

    I agree with all your points! I love Amanda Ronconi!! It’s very heard to listen to ones with no personality at all and those I usually do on a faster speed or quiet listening.
    Stormi recently posted…Stacking the Shelves!My Profile

    • Berls

      Thanks Jennifer! I don’t think I realized before I starting listening to audiobooks that it would be so incredibly different from just having a person read a book to you – that these are incredibly talented actors putting their talents to work with amazing voices.
      Berls recently posted…Cursed by Fire | Cover RevealMy Profile

  4. Katherine

    I’ve just started listening to audiobooks and I’m trying to figure out what I like. I’ve been listening to The Great Gatsby and the narrator is fine until he gets to women’s voices and then it’s just bad. I’ll have to look for some of the narrators you mentioned.
    Katherine recently posted…The Secret Woman – ReviewMy Profile

    • Berls

      Doing voices for the other gender tends to be a tough spot for a lot of narrators. I think the ones above are all really good at it. And if you can get a book with both a male and female narrator that’s ALMOST always awesome.
      Berls recently posted…Cursed by Fire | Cover RevealMy Profile

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