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Alex Mcomie 107x107
Jan 25, 2024

6 Skills to Look For in a Good Story-Telling Narrator

There are many elements to a good story: compelling characters, a strong sense of place, and a thrilling narrative to name just three.

However, these aren’t enough to create a compelling audiobook on their own.

Regardless of the quality of the writing, you still need a great narrator who can help the reader lose themselves in the story.

This is normally our job, of course.

Normally when we read words on a page, we do all of this ourselves.

It feels like we are shooting a film in our own head.

That said, listening to a story out loud enables us to engage on a deeper level.

Audiobook voice overs don’t only bring up our fond memories of school teachers and parents holding us in thrall with a story.

They also stir up our memories as a species.

Reading out loud is one of the most ancient of human traditions.

In fact, the idea of reading silently is a relatively modern invention.

Many scholars believe that reading out loud was the default until the tenth century.

Although this is still debated in academic circles, it is clear that oral storytelling traditions are found in many civilizations and that they always predate printing.

Bards, healers, and witch doctors were passing on wisdom and warnings in the form of stories well before the development of written language.

In a sense, audiobook narrators are only the latest incarnation of a long line of tale-tellers snaking back through history.

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Qualities of a Great Story-Telling Narrator

These are the qualities you need to keep in mind when you are looking for a story-telling narrator to bring your audiobook to life for the listener:

1. They Enjoy What They Are Doing

Reading can be a kind of self-hypnosis — just think of the phrase “lost in a good book.”

We create the scenery, imagine how the characters look, and add our own inflections to the way that they speak.

When a good book consumes you, it can make you lose all sense of time and what is going on around you.

The story transports you somewhere else, and your everyday world is replaced by the flickering theater of your own imagination.

Asking a narrator to recreate this experience with just their voice seems like quite a tall order — especially when you consider that they need to appeal to different listeners, each with their own preferences and associations.

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When you listen to an audiobook, it should be obvious that the narrator enjoys telling the story.

How could they keep you engaged if they aren’t interested themselves?

No one wants to listen to a monotone fight scene or a passionless kiss.

Great narrators can hold the audience under a spell, taking them on an emotional journey through the highs and lows of the tale.

The characters and scenes should jump off the page — or out of the speakers. The narrator’s enthusiasm is a big part of what brings it to life.

2. Articulation

skills to look for in a good story telling narrator - illustration of a computer desk

When a narrator mumbles, they can come across as lazy and bored.

On the other hand, focusing too much on articulation can make the story sound stilted and unnatural.

An excellent narrator knows how to find the balance between these two extremes, adjusting their style as necessary to fit the needs of the story.

Of course, they can only pull this off if they’re already familiar with the story.

This is why professional narrators take time to understand the ins and outs of a book before they start recording.

In that sense, they are just like an actor who reads and rehearses a play until they understand the unique personalities and motivations of each character.

3. Knowing When to Use an Accent

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Everyone has an accent of their own, but outstanding narrators can suppress their everyday accent and deliver a more neutral narration.

When called upon, a good narrator can also use a believable accent.

No one expects a 100% accurate accent for every character, but a narrator needs to sell the story by making each character distinct and believable.

Audiobook narrators need to be able to adjust their voice for different characters while making each one memorable. Learn how audiobook narrators are able to effectively voice unique characters.

A good narrator also knows when to drop accents altogether, because there are occasions when it can become distracting.

Although a movie might not be the ideal way to explain this rule, one does spring to mind.

The 2017 comedy, “The Death of Stalin” takes place in the Soviet Union, but the actors still use their normal English and American accents.

While they could have asked everyone to try a Russian accent, this would probably have been counterproductive.

(You can check out the official trailer and sample from the smorgasbord of accents here, although those averse to salty language may prefer to skip it.)

Russian is the same as any other language, and its vast territories play host to countless different accents. There is no one Russian accent, just as there is no one American accent.

On the other hand, Don Cheadle used a famously bad British accent in “Ocean’s Eleven” when there was no reason to make the character British in the first place.

This shows that creators need to be sensitive to the unique qualities of each project.

If your narrator can do good accents that align with the plot, they should go for it.

However, it’s sometimes better to let them use their normal accent, even if it doesn’t perfectly match the accents of the characters.

4. Intuitive Pacing

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A good voice actor knows when to hold for an extra second to let the words sink in, and when to speed up dialog during an action scene.

These little breaths and pauses can add a human touch to the character or some spice to the description of a scene.

The video below covers some key breathing techniques that voice over artists use when recording audiobook narrations.

Breathing technique is an underrated element of voice over work, especially when it comes to long-form content such as audiobooks. Travis Baldree explains how to manage breathing in order to control pacing and project a strong voice.

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A natural pacing ability can help a narrator immerse their audience in the story while making the characters feel more life-like.

At the same time, a seasoned professional narrator will consciously avoid overdoing it or ‘hamming it up.’

Overdramatic reading sticks out like a sore thumb.

The narrator should accentuate the drama of the story rather than emphasizing their own voice.

You won’t notice when the narrator is doing their job right because you will be too busy enjoying what they’re doing.

5. Differentiating Characters

Apart from the simple pleasure of being read to by someone else, better visualization of characters is a key reason for the popularity of audiobooks.

A good narrator makes each character’s voice distinctive enough to stand apart from the rest.

Ideally, the reader will feel as if they are standing there in the scene with the characters.

When an unskilled narrator speaks, all their characters sound the same and it becomes nearly impossible to distinguish between them.

The flip side is when a narrator goes too far and ends up making the characters sound comical or ridiculous.

Again, the understanding needed to balance these considerations can only come from knowing the story inside and out.

In the end, there’s only so much one person can do to portray different characters.

Some audiobooks use multiple voice actors in order to make the characters more distinct without relying on a single narrator to change their voice.

6. Consistent Narrative Voice

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Audiobooks can take several days to narrate from cover to cover.

It’s a long time to be reading out loud, and listeners can tell if fatigue or waning concentration are taking their toll on the narrator’s voice.

Our ears are very good at picking up when something is amiss, and they can quickly tell us when the narrator’s heart isn’t in it.

Ideally, the last page will sound exactly like the first.

Consistent narration throughout a book is one sign of a good narrator..

Below, Bill DeWees shares some great suggestions for maintaining the same delivery throughout a project.

He suggests using the first recording session as a reference file, and listening back to it before going to work on any subsequent takes. He also advocates trying to recreate it as a kind of warm-up exercise.

Bill DeWees explains how he stays consistent while narrating audiobooks.

Although Bill generally produces business books, he thinks this approach can work for fiction narrators, because they can record model versions of each character.

As an example of consistent narration, take a look at the animation video below. It was created to promote an app, but the story-telling style of the narrator shows the importance of matching the right voice to the project at hand.

An engaging narrator reads the story of Rabtus and Cumber.

Becoming an Audiobook Narrator

skills to look for in a good story telling narrator - illustration of a microphone

Lots of people wonder about becoming an audiobook narrator.

Friends may have said that they have one of those voices that are nice to listen to, or they may love reading out loud to their children and dream about doing it for a living.

They might even be working in the voice-over industry already, doing commercials or explainers for corporate projects.

This sort of experience would seem to make them perfect for audiobook narration, but it doesn’t always work out like that.

Reading books to an audience is as different from reading commercials for radio as stage acting is from screen acting.

In other words, some of the basic skills are the same, but the specifics can be very different.

Even if you already have general acting training and prior experience, you should still do some more specific training to prepare for recording audiobooks.

Be careful though.

The internet has made it possible for anyone to claim to be an expert trainer, so look to industry websites for recommendations before you part with any money.

A Little Test

skills to look for in a good story telling narrator - illustration of a video icon

If you’re seriously thinking about becoming an audiobook narrator, watch the video below from Sean Pratt or continue reading for a quick summary.

Voice over artist Sean Pratt shares a quick test for anyone who’s thinking about becoming an audiobook narrator.

Sean, an enthusiastic and successful audiobook narrator, describes attending industry events and being approached by people who said they wanted to be professional narrators.

These people would always listen to his lengthy advice, but they never followed up.

Instead, he suggested a test: read out loud for an hour or two per day for the next two weeks.

He offered detailed instructions for how to set up their studio.

They should use a small room (about 4′ by 6′) and put the book at roughly eye level.

Any time they come across a word that they don’t know how to pronounce, they should stop and look it up.

This test is perfect for people who are considering audiobook narration because it offers a taste of what the job is actually like.


skills to look for in a good story telling narrator - illustration of a video game controller

Other ways to prepare yourself include taking acting classes, signing up for amateur dramatics, and creating your own audiobooks.

Naturally, making audiobooks on your own is the best way to practice — it’s the closest you can get to the real thing.

If you’re having trouble finding your voice, start listening to more audiobooks and taking note of the narrator’s technique.

Think about what they’re doing, why it works, and if there’s anything you would do differently.

Keep those ideas in mind when you start recording your own material.

The experience will teach you a lot about audiobook narration.


skills to look for in a good story telling narrator - illustration of a record button

There are two ways to record: renting out studio space, or setting up a studio in your home.

While renting may be cheaper the first time, it’s a good idea to invest in a professional home studio if you’re planning to pursue professional narration.

The cost of equipment has fallen dramatically in the past few years, so it’s perfectly possible to record a high-quality narration in a home studio.

How to Set Up a Home Studio

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The first thing you’ll need is a computer — don’t worry, almost any model will do.

Another $129 will buy you a USB audio interface like the Focusrite Solo, which also comes with free audio editing software.

The audio interface is what gets the microphone signal into the computer.

You’ll also need a condenser microphone to connect to it — you should plan to spend roughly $100 depending on the specific model.

Next up is a pop shield.

Pop shields are the little circular screens you see in professional studios.

They stop all the harsh ‘p’ sounds from sounding too loud and negatively impacting your recording.

Throw in a mic stand, headphones, and some carpet and cushions (or acoustic foam) for soundproofing and you’re good to go.

It will take a little time to get used to the software, but there’s plenty of information available online.

You can begin to record your first practice book — then dive into the “joys” of editing.

How to Edit an Audiobook Narration

One of the things that surprises newcomers is just how long it takes to turn an initial recording into a usable audio file.

Professionals are usually paid for each hour of finished content, but that’s very different from an hour of work.

For example, a 100,000-word book might take around 11 hours to read out loud, so that’s what the narrator will be paid for.

But when you consider the entire production process, you’ll find that it takes much more than 11 hours to create that final product.

Editing audio is a labor-intensive task.

Unless your first contract includes studio time and editing support (unlikely), you need to put the coffee on and learn how to stitch everything together yourself.

A cheap computer and free software are enough to turn out high-quality work, but it’s not exactly a quick job.


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Of course, it’s a blessing to live in an age when computers and audio equipment are cheap enough for us to record at home.

Today, a fast broadband connection allows to share files quickly with people around the world.

The problem is that it’s a blessing for everyone.

Every man and his dog can now enter the market, claim to be professional, and outbid you for work.

The thing to remember is that no matter how many other people are fighting for the same jobs, your best asset is the quality of your work.

You can showcase it on your own blog or website, you can share your journey on YouTube, or you can find other ways to get your name out there.

Cheap marketing opportunities are abundant these days if you know where to look.

Remember that you don’t have to appeal to every possible client.

It’s often better to excel in a specific niche that aligns with your interests and vocal style rather than trying to be a jack of all trades.

For example, let’s say you have a calm, soothing voice that fits children’s books.

You should probably focus on these types of projects and build a portfolio that specifically relates to stories for kids.

Think about it — if you’re looking for a voice actor, don’t you want one that specializes in the kind of content you’re creating?

In such a competitive field, you need to find something that sets you apart and capitalize on that angle as much as you can.

Did you like this article? Have any questions or ideas? Please feel free to comment below.

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  • NelTron Jun 20, 2023 Reply

    What an excellent and concise article. I, (apparently), have a voice well suited to this ‘art’. Originally, I’m from an engineering background and medical issues have ended that so I’ve been looking at trying my hand at something alternative to constructively fill my time and I might give this a go. I just need a kick of confidence to get me moving in the right direction, away from the fear/phobia I have of hearing my own voice…..!

    • Voice Crafters Jun 21, 2023

      Thank you so much for your feedback and wishing you all the best of luck!

  • Natasha Romanov Mar 16, 2023 Reply

    I’m using this for a theatre live performance and it was incredibly relevant thanks!

    • Voice Crafters Mar 17, 2023

      That’s awesome! Thank you so much for your feedback!

  • Narressa Aug 23, 2022 Reply

    I got lost in the reading as well. Very nicely articulated and laid out. I’m looking forward to reading more of your blogs. Thank you!

    • Voice Crafters Aug 24, 2022

      So happy to hear that! Thank you for your commment!

  • Alba Feb 15, 2022 Reply

    Such an amazing article. I literally got “lost in the reading” haha. Thank you very much very informative, easy to read!

    • Voice Crafters Feb 15, 2022

      That’s awesome! Thank you so much for your feedback!

  • Nancy Gilbert Feb 7, 2022 Reply

    Just the starting guide I needed! I thank you for being so giving of yourself, experience and knowledge!

    • Voice Crafters Feb 7, 2022

      I’m so happy you found the article useful! Thank you for your feedback!

  • Justin Jan 23, 2022 Reply

    Thank you so much!! this article s are so helpful I’m going to prepare myself to start doing it .

    • Voice Crafters Jan 24, 2022

      Thank you very much for your feedback!

  • Bernadette Kailie Sep 1, 2021 Reply

    I can’t thank you enough for all the knowledge you have shared; you have no idea how helpful this is, it means the world to me. Thank you.

    • Voice Crafters Sep 1, 2021

      Thank you so much for your kind words Bernadette!

  • Internet Search Engine Nov 5, 2020 Reply

    Thank you, for sharing a very helpful article. Do you have a YouTube channel?

    • Voice Crafters Nov 5, 2020

      Thank you for your feedback!
      Yes, click here to get to our YouTube channel.

  • Manju Balhara Oct 1, 2020 Reply

    A treat to read for an amateur like me esp the excerpt by Sean Pratt … very valuable n practical , would like to try it

    • Voice Crafters Oct 1, 2020

      Thank you very much for your feedback!

  • David Aug 25, 2020 Reply

    I find when I read, I often automatically add an accent (in my head) for certain characters or settings. Not sure if this is a good idea or not, but my mind seems to want to be more authentic. I have yet to hear an audiobook I could sit through without losing focus, and narrators playing multiple roles tend to get on my nerves. I have the Focusrite bundle you mentioned and have been experimenting with it. It seems to work really well so far. Thanks for the tips!

    • Voice Crafters Aug 25, 2020

      Thank you for your comment!

  • Vivian Black Feb 7, 2020 Reply

    I love that you talked about enjoying what you are doing and how you can have them create an enjoyable thing. My husband and I are looking for a historical impersonator service to help us entertain our guests at our corporate event. We will keep these tips in mind as we search for a professional that can help us out best.

    • Voice Crafters Feb 7, 2020

      Thank you very much for your feedback!

  • Angela Jan 15, 2020 Reply

    Great article

    • Voice Crafters Jan 15, 2020

      Thanks so much for your feedback!

  • mercy Dec 21, 2019 Reply

    I am an actor and a voice artist but i would like to venture into narrations and i really found this article to be of great help.
    Thank you so much.

    • Voice Crafters Dec 22, 2019

      Thank you very much for your feedback 🙂

  • Teddy Hyde Oct 27, 2019 Reply

    Thank you for this. I have absolutely no experience in this sort of thing but this gives an excellent springboard of what – should I choose to invest time – I would be getting into, and the sorts of tips for an interested party to try out first. This discussed not only things I could do to see if I was committed, but also had links to videos and equipment. It was exactly the sort of insight I really needed and answered questions I didn’t know to ask.

    • Voice Crafters Oct 27, 2019

      Hi Teddy, Thank you so much for your feedback! Happy we could help!

  • Jeff Neiblum May 15, 2019 Reply

    Boy, I can relate to the consistency and character differentiation points you made. I just finished my first audio book and I made a few newbie errors that cost me a lot of agony and time. For one thing, I wasn’t consistent with my character voices which resulted in me having to go back and redo the voices in the first few chapters to be consistent with those in the last chapters. There were also bits where I just didn’t like the sound of the voice in certain sections. I have a home studio and the room can sound a bit different from one day to the next due to external activity, temperature, humidity, etc.. As a result, It was difficult to punch into sections of preexisting audio and match the tone exactly. Hours of frustration ensued. My take away from this:
    1. Lock down your character’s voices and commit them to memory BEFORE you start your first word. If you aren’t sure of the voice, go back and listen to the earliest part of the book where that character speaks.
    2. When you are working in less than perfect recording conditions (i.e., most home studios), if you aren’t 100% satisfied with a take, go back and punch and roll until you are. Trying to fix it later can result in tonal inconsistencies and major headaches.

    • Voice Crafters May 15, 2019

      Thank you for the feedback! Yes, there are so many factors that go into each recording that can make two recordings on separate occasions sound like night and day. Distance and angle from microphone may change, input levels, your voice…It’s definitely better to lock in each character’s voice in one session if that is possible. Glad you were able to get the book done and I hope it’s a great success!

  • Eric Morrow Apr 17, 2019 Reply

    Thank you for this, as I go through this and read, it gives me an insight. I am currently in the process of using this gift I was given. I have been involved with acting, and in voice over classes, but still had no trued direction. This was a great starting point to understand.. Because I have been told I have a great narration voice, so i need to learn how to use it.

    • Voice Crafters Apr 18, 2019

      I’m so happy you found the article useful! Thank you for your feedback!

  • Jose Morgan Apr 11, 2019 Reply

    Well said! I do believe a good story also involve how great the narrator is, you detailed everything that is needed. I’m a lover of every books and novel especially audiobooks so I’m really a picky one when it comes to its narrator, I hope this will serve as another source of reference for every narrator out there.

    • Voice Crafters Apr 11, 2019

      Awesome! Thank you very much for your comment and taking the time to read the article!

  • Patia Apr 5, 2019 Reply

    What about those who speak with an accent.? Are there narrators in other languages?

    • Voice Crafters Apr 5, 2019

      Of course! If the brief calls for it and if it lends well to the context then an accented voice over is the natural choice.

  • Gene Daily Mar 1, 2019 Reply

    I did find the article to be informative and actually a bit fun to read.

    • Voice Crafters Apr 5, 2019

      Thank you very much for your feedback!

  • CB Jan 21, 2019 Reply

    I am auditioning for a narrator role at our local community theater and read your tutorial with interest. I will study it and practice diligently, hoping to secure the role now and be able to do so in future productions. Thank you for this great article.

    • Voice Crafters Jan 21, 2019

      That’s awesome! Thank you very much for your feedback and good luck on the audition!!!

  • Janna Smallwood Jan 19, 2019 Reply

    I am in the very beginning of learning how to become a audiobook narrator. I learned a great deal from your information. I will save it and reread it often! Thank you for the great information! Janna

    • Voice Crafters Jan 20, 2019

      Thank you so much for your feedback! Much appreciated!

  • Subhash Oct 10, 2018 Reply

    Very good, informative and useful article. Thank you very much.

    • Voice Crafters Oct 10, 2018

      I’m glad you liked it! Thank you for your feedback!

  • Millie Hue Jun 22, 2018 Reply

    I like that you pointed out that a good narrator should be aware when to drop the accents to prevent distraction. I will keep this in mind since I need to make sure that my material will be understood well. It’s important that I hire an excellent narrator because my audience will be kids since I have made an audio book for bedtime stories. Thanks for the tips!

    • Voice Crafters Jun 23, 2018

      Awesome! Thank you for your feedback!

  • T.R. Kisgen Mar 20, 2018 Reply

    I’m just beginning to create audio books for my “Paulie the Panda” children’s series. My struggle is creating 3 distinct voices (Narrator, Mother, and Paulie) and I found your article informative and useful. These tips are encouraging and helpful. I use Audacity software and am thrilled with how easy it can all mix (music bed, sound effects, and audio). Thank you for posting this article – I’m off to make my voice deeper to differentiate Narrator from Mother. Paulie is the easiest character to voice, and he is the star 🙂

    • Mony Raanan Mar 30, 2018

      Thank you very much for your comment!

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