What Makes a Great Narrator Memorable and Mediocre Narrators Terrible?

Great narrator? Terrible narrator? Ask yourself: Are you plugged in?

Image of narrator as connector between text and listener

When a listener revels, “That narrator was outstanding,” can you guess the one fundamental reason why? If you answer, “Outstanding narrators consistently bring the author’s story and characters to life,” you’ve got it. Conversely, when a frustrated listener laments, “Well, at least my insomnia was cured,” what went fundamentally wrong? If you answer, “The story and its characters felt dead on arrival,” you’re right again. In my definition, an audiobook narrator must be a storyteller who, like an electrical wire with dual connectors, plugs into a book’s story, brings that story, whether fiction or nonfiction, and including its characters, events, and ideas, to life, and connects that life to the listener.

To be sure, storytelling is a complex process that requires highly skilled and intuitive performers. That said, an advanced degree is not required to identify and explain, at its core, what makes great narrators compelling, and terrible narrators not. Here’s how the best get it done–and why the worst leave listeners frustrated or bored.

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Paul Alan Ruben has amassed countless industry awards during his two-decade career as an audiobook producer/director, including two Best Spoken Word Grammy Awards. He teaches and coaches emerging and professional narrators in New York and around the country. His blog focuses on craft and related issues that concern audiobook narrators. He is also a writer of literary fiction whose latest published short story will be recorded by George Guidall.