Please welcome narrator Michael Crouch to The Book Nympho
Can you walk us through your prep work for a narration project? Do you prepare any notes to help decide the tone and voice to give a character when there’s not a clear description of their voice in the novel (when they do not have a distinct accent)?
Thank you for asking! I’m so happy you’re interested. My process begins by giving the book a thorough read, bookmarking characters as they’re introduced, looking up unfamiliar words or references, and making marks that will help me read aloud with as few stumbles as possible. Once I finish reading the book, I write a Gut Response to the story. This could be anything from a few words to a paragraph, jotting down thoughts on the story and characters, how they make me feel, personal connections, memories, etc.
Then I make a list of all the characters in the book, drawing stars next to any character that has a lot of dialogue or requires a distinct voice. Before I start figuring out what they sound like, I start my second “reading” phase, which is more of a skim. During this phase, I scan back through each chapter and dig deeper into the scene, making notes in the margins about the emotional subtext and/or action – any helpful reminder to keep me grounded in the moment. I also like to highlight different characters’ dialogue in different colors, which I find very helpful when jumping from character to character in the studio.
Last, I take time to figure out their voices. I begin by exploring his or her personality (relaxed or uptight? effusive or reserved? etc) and vocal type (young or old? accent or no accent? and so on). I do my best to give all the characters unique voices—however broad or subtle—really focusing on distinguishing the principals. If the character isn’t given a clear description, I will craft the voice in contrast to the other characters in the scene. For example, if two characters share a scene and I know for sure that one character has a very mumbly voice, I might give the other character a more articulate voice for the sake of contrast and clarity.
You have worked on many duel narrations. How is that process difference than a solo project?
When you’re narrating solo, you have the freedom to interpret each character as you see fit. When working on dual narrations, you need to be careful that the choices you make for the characters do not clash with what the other narrator has chosen. If you have a director, he or she will help you with this. If you don’t have a director, it’s helpful to touch base with the other narrator beforehand to make sure you’re on the same page, because it is very unlikely that you will be working in the same place at the same time. I have done many multicast audiobooks with actors I have never met in person!
I once read an interview with another male narrator who referred to a scene with many male characters as a conference table scene and how hard it is to make all the characters have their own voice. How do you keep the male characters different during your performance?
I agree, it can be very difficult to perform scenes with multiple characters who share the same gender and age! It is much easier for me to perform a scene with two very distinct types—say, a young girl and an old man. If, as in Goodbye Days, there are scenes between several teenage guys, I need to look for clues in the text to flesh out each guy’s personality and sound. For example, we know based on the setting that each member of Sauce Crew has a southern dialect, BUT we eventually learn that Blake’s voice is deeper and has a thicker drawl than the others. Bam! that’s one way to distinguish Blake. I break it down like that until I have a clear sense of each person.
You have perfect pacing and always sound like you’re in the moment and never sound rehearsed. I have only listened to your work on Jeff Zentner’s young adult novels (love them!) but after researching more of your work to figure out what titles I will listen to next, I see you narrate other novels outside the YA genre. Does the genre change how you approach/prepare for a novel?
Thank you so much. I’m happy you think I sound in the moment because that is always my goal. My philosophy is: If I am present, the listener will be present (hopefully!). Generally, my preparation is the same regardless of genre. The biggest difference I’ve noticed is that some genres require bigger characterizations than others. For example, if I’m narrating an action-packed Middle Grade book, there is freedom to make big, animated choices for the character voices. On the other hand, if I’m working on a contemporary novel like The Serpent King, which has a very naturalistic feel, it is more appropriate to keep the characterizations light. If I make choices that are too showy, it’s distracting. It doesn’t fit. In these cases I am aiming for “subtle, yet distinct” rather than “big and bold.”
You narrate a wide variety of novels. How do you decide which books to perform?
Honestly, I take whatever is offered to me, unless the budget is very low! I’m lucky to have been asked to record many great books. My favorites are juicy first-person narratives.
Since you spend so much of your time reading novels for work, do you enjoy pleasure reading in your spare time? If so, what types of books do you enjoy? And, do you find yourself thinking how you would narrate those books while you’re reading them?
I enjoy reading, but it’s been a while since I read a book for pleasure rather than work. When I’m not recording audiobooks, I usually catch up on magazines! I subscribe to a news magazine called The Week, and those issues tend to pile up when I’m busy. When things slow down, I catch up on all the back issues.
Name one book/series/character that you’ve read that you wish you could narrate?
Steve Martin’s second novel, THE PLEASURE OF MY COMPANY. It’s a funny, tender book with a lovably neurotic protagonist. If Steve Martin hadn’t narrated the audiobook himself, I would’ve loved to do that one.
What has been your favorite novel to narrate?
I have two favorites, and they’re very different. The first is SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli. As a narrator and reader, I’ve always been drawn to detailed first-person narratives. Albertalli nails Simon’s voice…to the point that he feels real. It was exhilarating to open myself up to her writing and get into Simon’s head. It felt very intimate.
The second is a dark psychological thriller called ILL WILL by Dan Chaon. Now THIS is the type of novel I would read for fun. I am one of five narrators on the audiobook. My character, Aaron, has a little over a 1/4 of the narrative. It is some of the most evocative writing I have ever worked with. As with Albertalli’s novel, when the material is fantastic and I’ve cultivated a deep relationship with the text, the recording process becomes intimate and thrilling.
What narration job are you currently working on?
Soon I’ll be working on Adam Silvera’s THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END. I’ve heard tons of praise for his writing, so I’m eager to dive into it!