Paul Alan Ruben

Paul Alan Ruben

Monday, January 5, 2015

How To Direct Your Inner Director: A Narrator’s Guide in Five Easy Directions

Somewhere in the numbing midst of recording each of my fair share of how to audio programs, I can palpably sense time poking along like a slug, and then onset of the fidgets: torso twisting, fingers tapping, knees knocking; simmering impatience bubbles into roiling incredulity, followed by full blown perturbation: Okay, okay, I get it already! Seriously? Eighty thousand words to say in what should have been a two-page essay that the publisher could have still slashed by half, and easily left room for footnotes and the author’s favorite recipes!

Faced now with the harrowing prospect of inducing the fidgets by succumbing to redundancy’s trapping allure, this how to post challenges me to say it coherently, say it briefly, and believe me, I know, say it once!

So, here goes:

Note: This post devotes itself to fiction. Next post, non-fiction.

For narrators who record fiction without the benefit of a storyteller’s director (i.e. one whose actable suggestions emerge when performance appears to be incompatible with subtext-demand): After activating your inner director with these simple, Self-Director Directions, you’ll instantly connect to the text’s emotionality, and—before your very ears!—transform into a more compelling, more hireable narrator.

Oh, and these Self-Director Directions come with this incredible guarantee: Upon activation, if your performance doesn’t dramatically (or comically) improve, email all five Self-Director Directions back, un-friend me on Facebook, de-tweet and linked-out me: No questions asked. And if retribution doesn’t suffice? On me: Dinner for two with Aunt Mary, that syntax scintillator, pyrotechnic pronouncer, modulation master, and recent autobiographical author of, Sell It, Don’t Smell It: I never met a word that doesn’t need help!

Without further adieu:

Self-Director Direction #1: Act Now! And I do mean act! Storytelling is 100% acting, 0% vocalizing. When you prep a novel, when you sit before that text in your booth, forget the words—they’re non-actable symbols. Remember the subtext, where storytellers locate the words’ actable feeling. Bottom line: If you don’t act, you’ll read. If you read, you’ll emotionally disconnect the listener—Aunt Mary’s spécialité.

Self-Director Direction #2: From Whose, or What, Point Of View Am I Telling the Story? Before uttering word one, engage the narrative’s point of view. Does the story begin from a particular person’s pov, or is there a feeling embedded in the opening event or description? Hint: Events and description have pov. All words have subtext. Speaking without engaging pov is reading, and therefore, not acting.

Self-Director Direction #3: What’s The Feeling? Now that you’re prepped to act, now that you’re connected to point of view, what’s the feeling? Happy, sad, angry, frustrated, etc. Remember, only feeling is actable. Not story. If you can’t specifically identify the feeling attached to pov, you can’t act.

Self-Director Direction #4: Ah, ah, ah! Don’t speak. Not yet. Not until you’re certain about The Stakes. Now that you’re focused on acting, point of view, and the feeling, exactly how intense is that feeling? On a 1-10 urgency-scale, how scared, how nervous, how wary, how giddy, how frightened? Hint: Whatever number you assign, double it. Far too many narrators err on the side of cautious commitment. Trust me. The chances you’ll over-act are virtually nil.

Self-Director Direction #5: Stay Committed! Keep your foot on the emotional consequence-gas pedal. Remember, the stakes are embedded in every single word. Relax—worse, forget—your commitment to the narrative’s emotionality, you’re finished acting. Hint: Vocalizing à la Aunt Mary (including, modulation (singing), non-emotionally-predicated emphasis, employing the voice to help the words) merely indicates emotion. And by definition, if emotion is indicated, it’s not organically felt: there is no feeling to connect. Despite the best of intentions, lifting your foot off the emotional consequence-gas pedal is phoning it in. Remove that foot completely, and you’re phoning in Aunt Mary.

Finally, these self-directions are most effective when given in order of appearance.

So there you have it! Five Self-Director Directions that promote immediate storytelling. I must admit, this advice-giving was fun, and sort of intoxicating! So much so, that, well, would it really hurt to, ya know, repeat it, albeit, with a new slant, a different spin? At the risk of reiterating, revisiting, reviewing, regurgitating, and otherwise reordering, re-shuffling, re-working what’s been stated as clearly, and as succinctly as possible, it’s worth taking just a few sentences, or maybe a teensy paragraph, or two...Though, really, now that I think of it, each Self-Director Direction could be its own chapter, or book.
How about a series!   


I’m looking forward to this weekend’s NY Narrator’s Workshop (Jan. 10-11), which is filled. And also Chicago’s Narrator’s Workshop (Feb. 7-8) where openings remain. (For information and to register, contact Michele Cobb: