Aaaaah, Facebook! The almighty host to all knowledge and wisdom.
… bwahahahaha! I know, right?? I barely, BARELY, got through that with a straight face.
But, in all seriousness, I have lately been coming across some very interesting and helpful pieces of data from Ye Ole Book Of Faces. Some things I already knew and appreciated having confirmed and verified, but would make an excellent piece of knowledge for some of the newer class of audiobook narrators and voiceover hopefuls out there.
I wrote recently about why we train. Today’s entry could easily be called part two of that series. It focuses on the smaller details and nuances that get by a novice narrator, versus the meticulously detailed nature of a trained professional doing a thorough job and charging a respectable rate.
Not just charging it, but commanding it and being confidently worth it.
Okay, now, I swear I am not making this up. There is a medium sized kerfuffle recently over a narrator who mispronounced the super-common french saying “C’est la vie!”
I use ‘mispronounced’ loosely. The author of the post spelled out the pronunciation phonetically as “Sess la vuy” (rhyming with ‘buy’).
…Sess la vuy. (break here for breathing exercise and re-centering).
I mean… there’s no two ways about it. I don’t know what else to say. That’s just beyond the realm of “only human” forgiveness. That’s a ridiculous, sub-rookie mistake that has no business existing in retail sales. This isn’t the same as a mispronunciation of a city or a person’s name, or a flub of a fairly benign and easily overlooked nature. A mistake like that borders on being offensively unintelligent and worthy of being fired for committing.
It’s a glaring example of a few things, including but not limited to:
1- no training
2- no prep work or research
3- poor alignment with long form narration
4- no respect for the author and the paying listener.
I half wonder if the narrator also has a blog or podcast called “How I booked a job I had no business doing”.
Let me go ahead and choose this as the time and place to say, “No, my narrated titles are not error-free works of pristine perfection”. There are little bubbles and divots here and there, yes, especially in the earlier ones. But through respect for the work, for the customer, and for the process, I sought continued and focused training which made a huge difference.
In the example cited above, the narrator came upon “C’est la vie” in a text written in English. If we give this narrator the fullest benefit of the doubt (has never spoken nor read the French language even once in their life, the entire rest of the text may contain no other French words or references, text contains no other non-English language words aside from these), they still fell short in research and diligence.
There’s always google and online pronunciations, right? How does one claim to be a professional in this field without visually recognizing this quoted text as, perhaps, another language? How do you tell an author who spent months or years writing this book and agreed to pay you and trust you for the production of their audiobook, that their work is in good hands?
I don’t know these answers, truthfully. But when I get asked what it takes to do my job and succeed in this field, where the line gets drawn between professional quality and hobbyist, and where the barrier to entry truly is, this is the kind of drawn line I struggle to point out to people.
Another good example is from the recent book I narrated called My War And Welcome To It, by Tom Copeland. Sgt Copeland has a chapter about his favorite teachers from high school, one of whom had the class all recite portions of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in front of the class…in Middle English!
Now, if you don’t know this already, the Middle English dialects are no longer in active use globally and are extremely difficult to understand and speak in.
I was fortunate enough in college to take English Lit 201 with a professor who was quite the Chaucer scholar, and this gentleman spent 50-60% of our class time reading this exact text to us aloud in his expert Middle English dialect. At the time I was studying acting and Shakespeare a lot, so I had a deep appreciation for this vocal skill, even though I was on the fence about the text itself.
When it came time to narrate the portion of the book which cites the section of Chaucer’s work that was assigned to the author, I fell right into it and knew exactly what was needed there. I was lucky in this particular instance. And I have taken 3 years of French as well.
So, I have that going for me…which is nice.
However, even without my unique exposure to this dialect, it was made clear in the text that this was important and had to sound right to make sense in the audio. Similar to the C’est la vie debacle, even without French I, II, and III under my belt, my inner voice would have been tapping me on the shoulder incessantly, saying “look this up and get it right, this is important!”.
We aren’t being paid to simply “read the words” while recording our “really good voices”.
Part of our jobs as narrators is not just to do this meticulous prep work and research, but to also be able to recognize the smallest areas that absolutely require this high level of attention. The works we narrate contain a message and a meaning. We have to go on the same learning journey on which the book is meant to bring all readers. The message and story need to be taken in, fully, if we are to do any justice to sending those messages back out with clarity, creativity, and loyalty to the story.
We have to hit every note, every beat. Find every emotion and every moment. Learn all the terms, research the languages and colloquialisms. It’s written down on the page for a reason. We owe the writer, the words, and the listener our time and respect. We are the pilot and captain of this part of the journey. Even the author is on-board, literally.