Voices in Your Head: How Audiobooks Can Improve Your Writing … by Richard Rieman

Do you hear voices in your head while writing? It can be a very good thing.

As a veteran audiobook narrator, I am always impressed when the writing just flows smoothly without choppiness or a staccato pattern.

Write Music

The late, great author and writing coach Gary Provost says reading your written words aloud will make you a better writer:

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words.

Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It's like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.

Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and

I create music. Music. The writing sings.

It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony.

I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length.

And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with the energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals—sounds that say listen to this, it is important.

So, write with a combination of short, medium and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader’s ear. Don’t just write words. Write music.” *

Audiobooks Bring Your Words to Life

Good audiobook narrators are actors. They don’t just read the words aloud in a pleasant voice. They are giving different voices to the characters on each page.

The best writing helps the actors and avoids repetition. For example, the “he said, she said” scenario.

“He whispered, she fumed, he rasped, she commanded.”

The basic rules of music, including rhythm, tone, and volume apply.

Not every reader or audiobook narrator will hear your words in your head exactly as you wrote them. In fact, “but that’s not the way I wrote it” is a common reaction from authors when hearing a narrator’s interpretation. In almost every case, you don’t get to direct an audiobook or movie version of your manuscript. It is the actor’s interpretation – in the case of audiobooks, self-directed interpretation. That does not mean it’s wrong. It’s just different.

“I want to leave now.” Five words, four ways you can emphasize each word.

I want to leave now.”

“I want to leave now.”

“I want to leave now.”

“I want to leave now.”

You can read the sentence slowly or quickly, angrily or happily, whispered or shouted. The narrator interprets how to play the music based on the character, the scene, and the hints you have given in your text. Readers interpret your writing the same way, playing the words in their heads the way they hear them.

Audiobook narrators should prepare by pre-reading your entire book and taking notes on characters prior to giving each a voice. Are they from Georgia? Boston? Originally from New York City? Are they shy, angry, grizzled, outspoken, edgy? How old are they? I create short sample audio files of each voice, so I can be consistent if a character appears in Chapter 2 and returns in Chapter 18. It’s a terrible feeling when you reach Chapter 20 and find out Johnny has an Irish accent!

Writing with Performance in Mind

Not surprisingly, the easiest books to turn into audiobooks are those written when the author had a screenplay or movie in mind.

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (West Wing, Social Network, Steve Jobs) told a writing Master Class I attended, “I’m not writing something that’s meant to be read; I’m writing something that’s meant to be performed. Just having written a screenplay is no more satisfying to me than if a songwriter handed out pieces of sheet music.”

Sorkin says it’s the difference between painting and a photograph. You are not just describing a scene, you are creating it, bringing it to life, letting it flow in both the dialogue and the surroundings. “Writing is painting,’ he says, “not photography.”

Writing with Audiobooks in Mind

Thinking of an audiobook performance can help your writing if you have well drawn, believable key characters. Paint them as real people with likes and dislikes. Give them dialog that makes them authentic, saying things real people say. Make them active, moving the story along. Don’t fall into the “this happened, then that happened, then that other thing happened” writing trap. It’s how the characters feel, how they are affected by events, that makes them more real, and makes your readers care about them.

So, pay attention to those voices in your head when you are writing your next novel and you may find yourself creating music, painting a picture, and telling a story that will be a great audiobook!

*Reprinted with permission from Gary Provost’s “100 Ways to Improve Your Writing"

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RMFW member Richard Rieman of AudiobookRevolution.com is an audiobook self-publishing consultant, a top Audible narrator, and in-studio producer of authors narrating their own titles. Richard is author of “The Author’s Guide to Audiobook Creation,” Gold Medal Winner of the 2016 Global eBook Award in Writing/Publishing.

You can learn more about Richard and his projects at his website Audiobook Revolution Productions. He can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and You Tube.

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2 thoughts on “Voices in Your Head: How Audiobooks Can Improve Your Writing … by Richard Rieman

  1. Excellent points. I’m working with two award-winning narrators now on two of my series, and they’re doing excellent jobs. They will send me samples of voices before they get started so we can make sure we agree on how a character will sound. And, since they’re doing series, they have to be consistent across books as well.

    As the author, when they’re done, I listen to their interpretations and follow along with the manuscript on scene. For the most part, they capture the characters well, but have been open to my requests to change the emphasis every now and then.

    As a writer, I find that hearing the work drives home the necessity of reading it aloud (or better yet, having he computer read it) BEFORE turning it in for edits, because those clunkers will jump out at you, and those are things you can’t really change.

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