Paul Alan Ruben

Paul Alan Ruben

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

What's In a Coach

Yesterday, Johnny Heller advised audiobook narrators who are considering training to carefully assess a potential audiobook coach. His advice resonated with me. Additionally, Johnny's approach to audiobook narration is similar to mine. That is, audiobook narration is an acting proposition.

Taking a cue from his post, I'd like to ask narrators who are considering coaching to spend a moment asking themselves, what exactly do I expect from a coach? Additionally, what might be a useful definition for audiobook coach?

Let me answer the second question first. I'll argue that an audiobook coach (aka acting coach) is one who employs actable vocabulary in order to assist the narrator in performing the subtext in a way that is commensurate with the author's intention.

What then should emerging or experienced narrators expect from an audiobook coach?

1. To be treated like an actor. Compelling audiobook narration is, as I mentioned earlier, an acting proposition. If you can't act, you may be able to read, or even narrate, but it's unlikely you'll be able to tell a story. Storytelling requires an emotional response to the subtext that is often intuitive. Actors possess that intuition. Non-actors are generally devoid of that performance property.

If you're considering coaching and don't regard yourself as an actor, my best advice is take acting lessons, and begin to think and react like an actor.

2. To be guided to mining the subtext for its emotional consequence. Since the voice can't act, and the words on a page are not actable, what's left that's relevant to the narrator is the feeling beneath the language, in other words, the subtext.

3. To be advised of the multiple means by which they can match the intention of the text. Those who've worked with me know that, in fiction, I am particularly focused on point of view, the stakes, speaking dialogue like a real person, and using the book as a co-director, which includes paying special attention to the punctuation. In non-fiction, assuming the author's persona, or that of an expert, or teacher, emphasizing the narrative's numerous salient points, and most importantly, focusing the listener on this incredible story.

4. To prep fiction and non-fiction as an actor. That is, to be in constant touch with the subtext, to know every moment what's at stake.

5. To focus on learning how to self-direct. Given that most narrators work alone or with an engineer, it's imperative that they develop responses to the subtext that become reflexive. Also, to be able to 'hear' themselves narrate and assess their performance while narrating, or while listening back.

6. To know that, while audiobook narration is not brain surgery, and doesn't require years, it is still building Rome, and may take multiple sessions before various lessons are fully inculcated.

7. To love investing yourself in the narrative. Narrators often work on books that are not of interest to them, but then, the job of the actor isn't to be interested in the book's content, just invested in its emotionality.