Dialogue forms a vital part of audio book narration and getting it wrong could spell loss of book sales. Audio book narration is broadly split in two: describing the inner thoughts of characters, and then the dialogue. Both require a separate set of skills.
Take a listen to an excerpt from my audio book Falling Awake by Charles J Harwood narrated by Rachel Shirley comprising discourse between 2 characters: Gemma and Terry, her father in law. Gemma has exposed a ring of crooks that had almost killed her husband, but Gemma refuses to pursue the matter further with Terry. He feels let down by his daughter in law. Notice how we can easily tell who is speaking. Terry has a gruff voice with clipped edges. We can also hear the anguish in his voice. Gemma sounds slightly hoarse and contrite.
Audio Book Dialogue Mistakes
A book narrator might have a beautiful voice, but if she cannot get to grips the character voices, the audio book could get bad reviews or returns. Such issues include the following:
Speaking the character voices in the same voice as the general narration itself, so the listener cannot tell if anyone is speaking or not. Always make it clear whether someone is speaking in the narration.
Speaking character voices with the same voice, so the listener cannot tell who is speaking. Always differentiate between character voices via tone of voice, inflection or accent. This will add colour to the narration.
Not practicing the accents of different characters. For example not giving a supposed Scot or Aussie an accent at all, resulting in a lack of conviction in the reading. The secret to accents is to be subtle. Unless you are 100% confident with an accent (or you are a native), ladle it on as thick as you like. My mother came from London so I feel reasonably confident with the cockney accent.
Going too far with accents, resulting in a parody or a cartoonish sound to the character voice. No one wants to hear a Welsh person sounding like Ruth Maddox from Hi-de-Hi. (See above). Often, it is better to be subtle with accents you are not familiar with. Not every word spoken has to be coloured with an accent. Listening to YouTube clips of people with accents I am trying to emulate (particularly famous people) has helped.
Male narrators squeaking to emulate the voice of a little girl or females digging deep to reach the deep tones of a male character. If the pitch cannot be reached, don’t force it. Keep the voice within vocal range and aim for subtle. Keep it natural.
Listeners appreciate the extra effort of the narrator. Character voices can be differentiated other than the pitch and dialect. Some voices are gruff (like Terry’s) others are smooth, shrill, muffled or clipped. There are many ways a character voice can be unique.
Not injecting any expression into the words uttered. Dialogue spoken as though by a robot will not create compelling narrative. Sometimes I will put myself into the character’s shoes or to think of a situation I have been in to rouse the emotion sought after. This helps with character acting.