'A' is for Accuracy
In almost all genres of performance, sticking to the script, whether you're doing it from memory or reading it, is regarded as pretty important. Actors forget lines occasionally and have to ad lib, but in a live performance there is not a lot that anyone can do about it - once the curtain comes down that performance is done and dusted, you'll get it right next time.
In a recorded performance however, the errors that men (and women) do, lives after them .... and though during a read of a thirty second script, you're less likely to make a mistake than over a ten hour audiobook, slip ups do happen even in short reads especially when you're under pressure or there is a very tight deadline. But what happens when the script itself contains errors. I think how you handle these depends on the kind of errors they are:
A Corporate or Commercial script, or a narration script for a video or film is likely to have been carefully mulled over, tweaked and re-tweaked to fit in with the branding and image of the product or organisation it's pertaining to; thus even when grammatically incorrect, it's unlikely that a change of words will be acceptable to the client, especially when it's a script written by committee - it seems that these days, people are not really worried about grammatical errors, even when to many listeners and viewers they are glaringly obvious. I can think of numerous occasions when I find myself shouting at the television in exasperation at grammatically incorrect commercials, news bulletins and even documentary narrations. The use of 'less' when talking about the number of something happens all the time. It should be 'fewer' when you're talking about numbers of anything! Fewer people, fewer cars, fewer jobs ... less is for explaining quantity. There is less junk food available in the UK than there was five years ago, but fewer people are asking for it' ; There are fewer diesel cars being sold today, which means that overall there is less pollution'. It's so simple!
Or what about this: 'The Government are thinking about changing the law' - Do you think there's an error here? It just sounds wrong to me. The Government is a single entity, therefore in order to agree grammatically, 'The Government IS thinking about changing the law' - however, if you change that to 'Members of the Government are thinking about changing the law' then the plural 'are' is correct as you're talking about 'the members' (plural) rather than 'the government' (single).
Am I being a touch pedantic? Perhaps, but I do believe that grammar matters and when the wrong word is used, or a word is used in the wrong context, it can be confusing for the listener and can change the sense and the meaning. I narrated a book where the author mixed up 'brought' (the past tense of 'to bring') with 'bought' (the past tense of 'to buy'). He bought her a delicious steak' has a different meaning from 'he brought her a delicious steak'. Faced with such conundrums, what should you, the person hired to read the script do? Is it your job to tactfully suggest a correction?
There seem to be two schools of thought on this - one is that your voice has been hired to read a script, therefore that is your only job, just read the words as written and take the money. My concern about this approach is that my voice is also being associated with the product and I pride myself on the quality of my work; the listener hearing a grammatical error, for example, the 'brought' instead of 'bought' mistake, may well think it the reader's error, that I am reading the script wrongly.
In such a case because it actually changes the meaning of the phrase, I would tactfully ask for clarification: does the author mean 'he bought her a steak' as in purchased, or 'he brought her a steak' as in he served it to her? If in doubt and certainly if I didn't have contact with the client or the the author and so was unable to clarify before recording, I would record both versions and add a note to the client explaining why I have recorded that line twice, this then gives them the option of choosing which one they prefer.
Another kind of error that I would probably tactfully correct is the factual error ... 'The Queen of England was crowned in 1956' - now I know for sure that the Coronation was in 1953, so I would absolutely record the correct date. Similarly, if a character's name changes for one chapter half way through a book (yes it does happen) I would change it to the name originally used.
If I feel that the textual error is unimportant - or that the phrase, even though it may be grammatically incorrect, is in common usage and doesn't actually change the meaning of what I'm reading, then I would probably err on the side of caution and read it as written, then just grit my teeth every time I hear it!
These are the moments such as the many spoonerisms and bloopers featured on 'It'll Be Alright On the Night' - when the brain and the mouth are just not communicating! And they happen to the best of us!
When you're recording in a professional studio, there is always someone on the other side of the glass monitoring what you read against the script. When the reader makes an error, the recording is stopped and then the reader goes back to the end of the last clean sentence and picks up the read. The recording is re-started and the error is over-recorded and replaced by the correct audio. This is call punch and roll (or rock and roll). With this option, errors are picked up early in the process.
In audiobooks in particular, this is the standard method of working in a pro studio, and many narrators who work remotely from home also use punch and roll for their own recordings, stopping and over-recording whenever they realise that they've made an error. Things do still slip through unnoticed of course, which is why, when raw audio is delivered to a audiobook producer, the audio is professionally proofed. This is where each chapter is listened to through headphones while the proofer reads the manuscript and marks any errors along with any over long (or too short) pauses, extraneous noise, loud breaths, mouth clicks etc. A list of corrections is returned to the narrator to re-record all the phrases and sentences where there is a mistake**. The corrected audio is then sent to the editor who will insert the corrections and clean up the audio before mastering and sending to the publisher. However, even when audio is being professionally proofed to pick up errors, the expectation of a professional narrator is that you deliver audio with as few errors as possible. Almost everyone makes some errors in their reads, though I know of one narrator who returned a 23 hour long audiobook with only one error. Needless to say, he is an editor's favourite!
Practice helps with accuracy ... even if I am not recording for a project, I read aloud every single day. Sometimes I deliberately pick something that is way out of my comfort zone, with lots of difficult words or long and complex sentences and read and record just to check my accuracy levels.
There are some days though when everything just flows and you can go on for page after page without making any mistakes. Why are some texts just easier to read than others?
Generally speaking I find that I make fewer errors when reading a manuscript written by a British author rather than an American one. Brits and Americans place some words in a different order, and of course my eyes automatically try to read what is more familiar to me. For example, where most Brits would say 'she would never have eaten that cake' , An American would say 'She would have never eaten that cake'(American English) then there are the missing words - 'he looked out the window' then walked out the door' (American) versus 'he looked out of the window then walked out of the door' in British English.
There are some particular bugbears that make accurate narration really difficult:
First and foremost comes poor writing. I don't mean a book that has lots of grammatical errors or poor punctuation, I mean a book that doesn't engage, where the plot is unrealistic and cliched, where characters are stilted or speak too formally ... or where there are characters (or dialogue) that have no purpose, whose dialogue is mere padding, who are not contributing to the story or moving it forwards. These kinds of books will always be more difficult to read than a book that grabs your attention, is flowing and fluid, where the plot moves at a pace and where all the dialogue is there for good reason not just for padding.
Too many unnecessary attributions ('he said', 'she said', 'said Fred', 'said Emily') always make it difficult to maintain the flow of a read and are mostly unnecessary except when a new character is brought into a conversation. You almost always know who is speaking because in written works, one person speaks, another answers and on the page each person's words are divided by speech marks (or they should be!). Over attribution becomes causes even more difficulties when the author adds emotions to attributions: 'said Fred miserably', 'said Emily thoughtfully', 'said Peter through gritted teeth'. Very difficult - to sound natural - you try talking through gritted teeth! But seriously, when you're forced to tell the listener how someone is saying something (or thinking something) it takes away your creativity, you're forced to check that your vocal tone matches he description.
The best advice I can give is that when tongue, eyes, brain and ears refuse to cooperate is to take a break ... leave the studio and do something completely different for at least half an hour. You'll go back refreshed and with all your synapses re-connected successfully ... well that's the theory anyway ... and if not, save your bloopers and laugh over them later! If you're brave, you can even share with friends!
**Recording corrections calls for real skill and a significant attention to detail, and will be covered in it's very own A - Z section when I get to 'C' for Corrections.
Photo Credit: Paul Haynes
I've gleaned quite a lot of knowledge over the years, knowledge that might be of interest to others, especially authors, actors and voice actors. Because I read so much, for pleasure and professionally, I also occasionally write reviews of what I read - so they're here too.
My opinions are mine and my views are my own!