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.