Coffee. Wow, daylight savings takes more than a few days to remanage and reorganize. With that said and a fresh cup in hand, let’s tackle this week’s subject!
Warning: I’m about to draw upon my love of Kevin Smith movies. For those who might not share in my appreciation, the discussion can still be followed. For those who giggle when they realize that my name is Veronica and wonder if I can make mean plate of lasagna (which I can)… my people.
First of all, Chasing Amy is a movie that always makes me cry. I’ll fall out laughing, but I’m also sniffly halfway through. It’s also a movie that brings up an argument that sometimes parallels discussions about narrating someone else’s work versus reading one’s own writing.
For reference: The “Tracer” argument from Chasing Amy (Not safe for work due to language, but that’s probably curable with headphones)
The ‘tracer’ argument with regard to comics is one that hits close to the narration piece. For those not familiar with comics, one person often will do the pencils while another person does the inks and colors. Those who’ve done both on any scale will argue that the ability to ink and color properly will make or break a comic. There is a skill and artistry in adding color and depth to a pencil drawing, and it requires attention to detail that not many people have. At the same time, it’s not always valued as much as the pencils because it gets trivialized as ‘tracing’ by those who don’t understand the process.
Sometimes, narrating other people’s work gets trivialized like tracing. I admit, I am hypersensitive to this, and I often have to stamp down on that whiny little voice that wants to rise up in indignation when anyone starts to pick on narration that doesn’t involve the narrator’s own work. Mind you, I’ve yet to leap over a table and call someone a lesser-known Mark Hamill villain (see Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back for that referencebut I still get a wee bit cranky and feel the need to present a counter-argument.
I was listening to the most recent Dead Robots’ Society podcast and part of the conversation veered toward narration of other people’s work and the idea that someone other than the writer might not give as good of a read as another narrator came up. There was also a concern that outsourcing the narration via a service like ACX would result in a lesser quality product than authors narrating the books themselves.
I do a lot of work via ACX. I’ve narrated some amazing stories and I’ve narrated some that were not so amazing… but they all got the same attention to detail for storytelling, tone, inflection, and editing. Regardless of the author, it is my voice that is being heard; if I do a poor job in the narration, then the only person I shortchange is myself. First, in poorly representing the author’s work, I do a gross disservice to the author-client. Consider it the aural equivalent of misaligning the text or not copyediting for punctuation; it’s a distraction that changes the perception of the work and keeps the reader/listener from enjoying the content. I’ve mishandled a client’s intellectual property, and I’ve ruined that trust. That is the last thing, as a narrator, that I want to do for a short story or novel. Second, in poorly representing the author’s work, I ruin my own reputation as a narrator. There is nothing to be gained in my rushing through a job or doing a haphazard editing pass; as narrator and producer, it’s all on me.
My job is to make the story sound good. Heck, my job is to immerse you in the story and forget there’s someone talking, to close the gap so that when you hear the first few words, you’re right there where the author wants you to be.
I will argue (and bias, remember) that it takes skill to tell someone else’s story. Yes, it’s my voice on someone else’s words, but consider all of the amazing narrators and voice actors you may have heard over the years. Heck, look at MARK HAMILL who is, hands-down, one of the most dynamic guys on the scene. You don’t hear the Joker or Fire Lord Ozai and think about that kid jumping around Dagobah with some little green guy on his back; you want to know what the villain is going to do next. The gap is bridged, and you’re IN the story. Bam.
So… it’s more than just going over someone else’s lines with more pens or picking up another page and reading the words aloud. There’s a skill and artistry involved, and there’s a measure of integrity required to stay true to what the first artist has set down. Not all narrators are the same, just like not all inkers and colorists are the same… but when you find a really good one, you tend to forget that they’re part of the entire experience.
(Another note: this was a REALLY good DRS episode, and you should listen to the entire session as it brings up some hard truths about podcasting one’s fiction and the time/effort involved. I just listened to it with my narrator brain rather than my author brain, hence the ‘rawr, storyteller‘ response.)