Romance in Your Ears

Posted Dec 27 2017, 9:36 pm

I hope everyone had a great holiday! Last week, I was on a deadline, but this week I’m back. (You can hear the pitch revving up: “Who wants to write a guest blog?” I’d like to feature tips for writing in some of the different subgenres.)

When I took breaks on my deadline, I was listening to audiobooks while wrapping presents. I love audiobooks for the way they enable me to read when I otherwise couldn’t. But I have a confession to make . . .

My family and I have been audiobook fans for a long time. I love the way a good audiobook can take me so thoroughly into the story, and though I am an unrepentant speed reader, I also enjoy having to slow down and appreciate the story, word by spoken word.

But for a long time, I resisted romance novels on audiobook. Some romance moments are so… personal. Would that translate well to audio? Also, I listen during my commute. What if I got carried away in “the moment” (AHEM) and became a hazard to other drivers?

Of course, I got over myself when I saw that one of my favorite recent romances was out in audio format. I listened, and it was amazing. (And no, I did not wreck the car.) Color me converted.

Apparently, I’m not alone. In the beginning of November, Audible launched a new all-romance subscription package, discussed in an article from the Verve. Audible is even producing an exclusive line of audio romances.

As a listener, I’m intrigued, but as a writer, this news made me think: What would it mean to write for a listening, rather than visually reading, audience? Based on my experience in audiobook listening, here are a few things to be wary of:

TYPEWRITER DIALOGUE. Harrison Ford famously complained that George Lucas wrote “typewriter dialogue”: words that looked fine on the page, but sounded clunky and awful when spoken aloud. (His example: “It’ll take a few moments to get the coordinates from the navicomputer.” Clunk.) I would have to work to make sure there were no typewriters clattering in the background.

ACTING CUES IN TEXT. “She gasped.” “He rumbled.” “She sighed.” “He snapped.” When we use these cues in our dialogue tags (and elsewhere…), the narrator not only has to read them aloud, but act them out. I’d comb my text for throwaway cues to be sure I included only what I wanted to actually hear.

FLORID DESCRIPTION. Purple prose goes vivid ultraviolet when read out loud. (In the hands of a good narrator, this is not necessarily a bad thing.) On the opposite end, clichés sound boring, especially when they’re repeated. I’d try to make sure that the description I use is appropriate to both the moment and to the character whose POV I am currently in, and I’d do a triple-sweep to clear out cliché clutter.

ACCENTED EXPRESSION. Elizabeth Peters admitted that she got a kick out of inventing side characters with unusual nationalities in her books, just so that Barbara Rosenblat (the excellent narrator of nearly all Peters’s audiobooks) would have to perform the accents. I’ve heard a marvelous version of Kipling’s Rikki-Tikki-Tavi read by a narrator from India—a choice that made the story all the more fascinating by subtly highlighting the (British) author’s depiction of Indian characters (as animals, but still). That said, there’s something painful about listening to a stock British or Southern accent* pasted onto wording that has none of the inflection of the vernacular. I’d try to ensure that, rather than relying on my narrator’s ability to do accents, I’d rely on rhythm and word choice to convey that difference in speech.

*As if there were just one British or Southern accent. HA.

Come to think of it, most of these considerations apply whether I ever have a book made into an audiobook or not! But listening, rather than reading on paper, certainly can help highlight the trouble spots.

What do you think? What would you want in an audio production of your books? And who would you choose as a narrator (or as narrators)?

(I would have wanted Alan Rickman, myself.)

1 Comment


One response to “Romance in Your Ears”

  1. Great article! Thanks.

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