Guest Post…Audio Books – Modern Oral Storytelling

For today’s guest post we’re welcoming back author Clinton D Harding to the blog – Clinton’s novel Our Monsters was one of our featured books during Indie Author Month, click here to see the post – now let’s see what he has to say about storytelling today…

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Ever had a grandparent tell you a tale from the “ol’ country”? I think everyone has. Do you remember sitting on the magic rug for story time during kindergarten and listening to a teacher read a story aloud to you?

There is magic in that type of story delivery.

Reader and listener feed off each other. They pass emotions back and forth like a hot potato. The reader (or storyteller) brings to life each character’s hopes, their secret dreams, their rage, and their deepest fears. The listener feels each of the characters’ breathes on their ears, in return whispering awes and ohs to quench the parched throat of the storyteller.

That is the magic of oral storytelling, the communion and sharing. Long ago, this is how humans passed on their legends and myths, before writing and before reading. When the high lords and ladies prohibited the commoners from learning to read, elders would pass down a community’s histories and stories by campfire. Later bards would roam the land and pass along the oral tradition through song and poem. Either way, these oral traditions served not just as entertainment but also as connections to the past. Today modern society has television, film and video games. Stimulating, yes. Most people can read, sure, but hardly anyone willingly picks up a book (fiction or nonfiction) for fun.

Fret not! Oral storytelling is not dead. It lives on in audio books.

When I was in fourth grade you would find it easier to pull out my teeth than get me to read. Shocker for those who know me today and know me to always have a book at hand. Around that same time movie theaters were playing the Shadow starring Alex Baldwin. I was excited because the Shadow is one of the characters Bob Kane used as inspiration to create Batman and I was/am nutty for anything related to the Dark Knight. Because I was excited for the “Shadow” film, that Christmas my grandparents bought me a set of re-mastered recordings of the Shadow radio show (on cassette tapes). I listened to those adventures repeatedly until the ribbon wore away.

The old Shadow radio show recordings from the 1930s to the 1950s were not audio books. A cast of actors read from a script similar to the scripts used for television shows and movies. Separate crews would also add sounds effects to make the action pop. Audio books are different in that there are no sound effects and there is usually only one performer. However, the old radio dramas and audio books are not unalike.

There is a great deal of imagination needed to enjoy a radio drama and an audio book. What’s important is the emotional connection the performers in the dramas and the narrator of an audio book need to make with the listeners. For instance, when a character is engaged in a fight or running a mile, a good actor has to convey the strenuousness of that activity with his or her voice. On screen an actor can physically show the fatigue, the strain the activity puts on the body and mind. Good material is essential for this of course, the actor can only read and perform what is on the page. With good material from an author, a talented actor, and an active imagination, a story can come alive for the listener without having the visual media as an aid.

Think about it for a second. Sound activates primal feelings in us. A loud noise like a shout can startle a person. The right words spoken tenderly with love can melt a heart. A man with a good accent—take your pick from Europe—can read the phonebook and make a room full of women swoon.

The power of the voice. Intertwine a magnificent reader with a fantastic book and you have a recipe for something special, something to stir the heart.

My father has asked if hearing the same voice for all the characters detracts from the experience of the story. If hearing a male reader do the female character voices or vice versa is odd and takes you out of the story. I don’t believe so. There are some readers who do the voices so well, who take great effort to increase or decrease their tone and pitch so you can hardly notice. Actually, some of the best readers do different voices for all the characters. They tweak their voice so subtly that nearly all the voices are different, nearly, no one is perfect and the reader has only his or her own voice to manipulate (the range only goes so far). Jim Dale is crazy good on the American Harry Potter audio books. James Marsters has done a great job with the Dresden File book readings. Michael Kramer has read most of Brandon Sanderson’s novels and the Wheel of Time series and he’s fantastic.

If an audio book reader does his or her job well, has a mastery of their voice, can put every drop of emotion into each word, speaks clearly and keeps a fluid pace, then they will suck the listener in. The listener will feel that same campfire intimacy from ol’. Unfortunately these days that intimacy only extends one way, listeners get more out of the reader because the listeners cannot be there for the recording. Regardless, I don’t believe the experience is lost, it has only been modernized and made available to a wider audience.

Best of all… audio books today are more accessible. A person used to lug around twenty-plus cassette tapes or a few less CDs in order to have an entire audio book available for listening. Today’s mp3 players have created convenience much the same way eReaders have. It is so easy to carry around books, audio and other. As far as I’m concerned we’re living in a book utopia.

By no means am I trying to advocate switching over from reading a novel to listening to the audio book version as each provides a different experience. Audio books merely remind us of how storytelling was once communal, containing a closeness that connects listeners and the storyteller. And of course the reading is that much more special when the author of the novel is actually the reader. Neil Gaiman, the stud and rockstar of the literary world, is an excellent reader.

Go to audiable.com or iTunes.com and try an audio book. Personally, I enjoy listening to stories I’ve read previously, there is an added something and I often I pick up details I missed when reading.

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About the Author

Clinton grew up in Southern California, where the sun shines all day and where most kids spend their days outdoors skinning knees and browning their flesh. He spent those same days inside, reading comics, books, and dreaming of fantasy worlds. These days he not only dreams but he creates and writes about those same worlds. In college Clinton found himself in the dregs of a business school, studying accounting. Sneaking English and philosophy courses into his schedule were the only things that kept him sane! As a result, he spent way more than four years getting a well-rounded degree. Adult books and books for kids, Clinton reads it all these days. He still enjoys traditional American comics and manga/anime from Asia, but when not writing he can also be found immersing himself in video games.

            Clinton today still resides in Southern California with his wife, Kathy and their two Scottish terriers, Mac and Bonni (wheaten and black).

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Want to know more? Check out the links!

http://clintondharding.com (official site)

https://twitter.com/#!/ClintonDHarding (twitter)

Email: cd.harding83@gmail.com

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clinton-D-Harding/76506701006 (facebook)

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5381520.Clinton_D_Harding (goodreads)

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