Monday, December 9, 2013

A Principal Challenge of Modern Story-telling

This a reposting of my first entry as a guest blogger for the blog ON THE PLUM TREE.

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A Principal Challenge of Modern Story-telling
by Daniel Vimont

I'm very grateful to Niamh for the invitation to take part in these wonderful Plum Tree conversations, which seem to me to be something of a 21st century version of the stimulating and enlightening French salons of centuries past.

Since Niamh's invitation was in the context of my work (and works) as an audiobook narrator, I'd better begin my part of the conversation at least somewhere in the neighborhood of that topic. (Who knows where things might veer from there? But that's where I'll start.)

Let's talk first about challenges. (That's like skipping the pleasantries and getting straight to the car chase.) It may be a bit masochistic of me, but I love the fact that as an audiobook narrator/producer, I face a broad array of challenges every day: artistic and technical challenges, as well as marketing and financial challenges. And all of these challenges are overhung by the fairly relentless meta-challenge of not losing faith in my ability to effectively take on any of these challenges. (That last one probably sounds very familiar to you, even if you're not an audiobook narrator.)

In adhering to what I perceive to be the belles-lettres nature of these Plum Tree conversations, I'll take on the artistic issues here and leave discussion of the others to some other blog.

It will come as no surprise to you if I say that during every moment that I am recording an audiobook, I am reading words off of a page. However, at any moment in which you are listening to an audiobook of mine, if it ever sounds like I am reading to you then I have failed (and failed rather abysmally), to meet one of the fundamental challenges that I set for myself. When I am reading to you (and of course, every second you are engaged in one of my audiobooks I am, in fact, reading to you), it must never ever sound like I am "reading to you".

When your favorite musician plays or sings for you, does it sound like they are reading notes off of a page? Hell no!! They are just making beautiful music for you to enjoy, and any notation that may or may not be in front of them while they are doing it does not in any way come into your conscious experience as a listener.

Likewise, if I come across sounding as if I have printed words in front of me that I am reading to you, then the magic (that I feel must be there) has been lost. Even though my voice is physically coming through your earbuds or emanating from your car or living room speakers, it must feel as if I am having a very intimate conversation with you (just you), with a spontaneity that distinguishes a natural conversation from a recitation.

Do I succeed at this? Do I come across as someone who is simply reading something aloud to you, or do I come across as someone who is telling you a story? That is for you to decide. It is up to you to be the judge and jury (and, if necessary, the executioner -- let's hope it doesn't come to that).

Do I think other audiobook narrators succeed at this? Honestly, very few. But it also seems that not many of them are even trying to get beyond sounding like they’re "reading". Which leads me to tentatively conclude that audiobook narration as an art form is in its very early stages of development.

So if each of us is on our own Joseph Campbell "hero's journey", then this is mine:  hacking through  the underbrush in unexplored, unmapped territory, working to give birth to a new art form.

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