How I Learn Accents for Audiobook Narration

When I was a kid, my dad and I used to speak to each other in different accents for fun. By the time I was 14, I was pretty capable with a British accent and an Indian one, in addition to the Southern accent I was surrounded with growing up. I’ve dabbled in other accents over time, and now, as an audiobook producer, I’ve found a fun and profitable way to put these oddball skills to use.

The audiobook version of Arrow of the Mist, by Christina Mercer (narrated by ME!!) will be available on later this month.

The audiobook version of Arrow of the Mist, by Christina Mercer (narrated by ME!!) is available NOW on Audible.

When I audition for audiobook roles, sometimes the book requires an accent that I’m not yet capable with. For instance, the audiobook I just finished, Arrow of the Mist, contained characters with Celtic accents. And the book I’m about to start has minor characters who speak in Latino and Caribbean accents. So I had to learn to do these accents. (Note that I will not audition for or accept a gig that requires me to narrate the whole book in an accent with which I am not already familiar. If I’m not well practiced yet, I can voice minor characters in that accent, but not major characters, and certainly not the non-character narration. I can sustain the new accent for short stints, but trying to do it through the entire book would be too much, and I would slip in and out of the accent.)

So how do I learn new accents? Well, I am fortunate enough to live in this amazing, technologically advanced world, with this incredible thing called the Internet at my disposal. First thing I’ll do is go to YouTube and search for videos by native speakers of whatever accent I’m trying to learn. If I can’t find enough good material on YouTube, I’ll google movies that feature characters with those specific accents, and I’ll rent them or watch on Netflix.

The Voices, Ryan Reynolds, Irish cat

Ryan Reynolds is great, but the cat is really the star of this film.

For instance, when I was studying up on Irish and Scottish accents for Arrow of the Mist, just by happenstance, I watched a movie with my husband called The Voices. In case you’re wondering, it’s an exceedingly strange horror-comedy about a psycopath killer who has conversations with his cat and dog. The cat tells him to murder people, and the dog tries to discourage him from murdering people. The great part of watching this movie, at the time, was that the cat was voiced in a really excellent Irish accent, which I imitated for this magical character in Arrow:

Arrow of the Mist – Audio Sample (Open in a new tab to avoid leaving this page.)

I find that learning a new accent is much more than memorizing the pronunciation of specific words. In fact, that is not what I do at all. When I watch the YouTube videos or the movies on Netflix, I’m mainly listening for the general lilt and rhythm of the accent. I’ll pause at certain points and repeat exactly what the speaker or actor has said two or three times before proceeding with the rest of the video. I do this even when I’m not researching for particular roles. For instance, when I watch Game of Thrones episodes online, I often find myself rewinding to hear a particular phrase again, so that I can try to reproduce the inflection used.

For practice, I will sometimes use the accent in conversation at home with my family. This always gets lots of giggles out of my daughter. Once, we made a game of it. I created a character named “Tatiana the Great”, a fortune teller with an Eastern European accent and a hot temper. My kid played a succession of different customers with burning questions that needed answering, and I, as Tatiana, peered into my crystal ball and offered dubious but hilarious advice. My husband even joined in as “Jakov”, the kind but bumbling male servant.

Does the accent need to be absolutely perfect? Probably not. Think of AMC’s The Walking Dead. Andrew Lincoln, the actor who plays Rick Grimes, is British, and performs the role with a very good southern accent. BUT, if you’re very familiar with southern accents and you go back and watch all the episodes from Season One, you can see that the accent started out good but definitely flawed.

This is not how a southerner says "Carl".

This is not how a southerner says “Carl”.

The Internet has made fun of Lincoln’s pronunciation of Grimes’ son’s name, Carl. Throughout the first and second seasons, Lincoln would often say “Coral”, in what seemed to be a misguided attempt to imitate the drawled vowels of the southern lilt. But even though the accent was flawed, it was still believable. I am sure that any native Irish person would find the flaws in my imitation of an Irish accent immediately. But for everyone else, they are not likely to be noticeable. And like I said before, it’s all about the lilt and rhythm. If you can capture those and manage to keep your pronunciation right for the most part, you’ll do fine. And of course, the more practice you get, the better you’ll be.

So if you’re thinking of narrating audiobooks, or you have some other strange purpose for learning accents, don’t be too intimidated! The resources are at your disposal, and it’s not as hard as it seems. Have fun with it!

Are you a “natural” at voices and accents? Or have you ever studied an accent to learn how to imitate it? Do you do audiobook narration or another type of voice work? Let me know what you think in the comments section!

Also… I am running an IndieGoGo campaign right now to help me get to Odyssey Writing Workshop! I am super excited about this opportunity, which I believe will help me reach the next level in my science fiction writing. I’d be pleased as pie if you would check out the campaign and, if you like it, contribute, share it with your friends, or interview me on your blog or podcast!


Belated Introduction Post

Introductions and Salutations

I’m not so good at introductions. It comes from being an introvert, I think. I don’t really go to parties or gatherings of more than four people if I can help it, but sometimes it is unavoidable. And if I do find myself at a party, I don’t just walk up to someone I don’t know and say “HI! I’m Starr and I love to read and write and hide in dark rooms with my thoughts!” And even when a mutual friend introduces me, I feel terribly awkward at all of the I-don’t-know-anything-about-you-but-I’m-gonna-pretend-to-be-interested-and-engaged banter.

Once I get to know a person a little bit, and my internal character-judgement scale has more or less settled on an initial rating for that person (It’s a pretty simple system: Everyone starts at 0; positive qualities move you into the positive; negative qualities push you into the negative. Values can fluctuate over time.) then and only then do I start to feel comfortable divulging information or, you know, making eye contact. The longer I know (and like) a person, the more comfortable I get engaging in conversation with him or her. But if a stranger is thrown in the mix, I start to withdraw, which often makes people think I’m a total bitch. Introvert Excuse Anyway, this not being so good at introductions thing is probably why I did not include the seemingly-obligatory “Introductory Post” on this blog. What would I say? I don’t even know who will be reading this! What should I write about? Let’s see… an introduction is like showing folks a little bit about myself, just a glimpse, like a movie trailer. So should I talk about my job? That doesn’t really define me. My family? I mean, I love them and spend most of my time with them, but they are not ME… My love of writing and reading? I don’t know, that might be kind of boring. (“So, I love to read. Here is a list of my favorite books… when I read I like to let my internal narrator give all the characters different voices, blah, blah, blah TMI.”)

As you can see, the question of what to write in my first blog post was overwhelming. I created the blog, and then it was two more months before I made an “actual” post. I stalled. I posted a funny video. I read other people’s intro posts as research. I stalled some more. I sat down to write the intro post several times, but just couldn’t bring myself to get past the first paragraph. Finally, one day, I got really frustrated at something that I kept seeing on Facebook, and in a fit of emotion, I wrote a blog post. And I published it. Reading back over it, I thought, Hmmm. This isn’t really an introductory blog post. It does not introduce me.

But in a way it did. It didn’t talk about what I do, or what I love, or what I am passionate about, but it did offer a glimpse into my personality. So a couple days later I wrote another non-introductory blog post. And a couple days after that, another. And so here we are on Blog Post #6 (which is really only Blog Post #4, because the first two posts were a video and a quote), and now that I’ve gotten to know the feel of the blog, and gotten to know my audience a bit, I feel I am ready to introduce myself.

HI! I’m Starr. I love to read and write and hide in dark rooms, alone with my thoughts!

I have a family! My family members include my husband Eric and my 9 year old daughter, who shall be referred to on this blog as “the kid”, “the litigator”, “the rock enthusiast”, or any number of other creative epithets that may occur to me. We live in the mountains of North Carolina! On a “farm”. Not a salt-of-the-earth, up-before-dawn, fresh butter and cream farm. More of a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants, 19 acre time suck. With pigs and chickens. And half a garden.

For a living, I post updates to Facebook, Twitter, and a dozen other social media platforms for small businesses. Also, I blog for small businesses, about diverse topics from “how to assemble your futon frame” to “what to expect at your first biofeedback treatment session.”

But when I have some moments to spare, I usually devote them to writing, plotting, researching or editing my fiction. I like to write speculative fiction- which basically means there has to be something wildly improbable in the plot or setting of a story I’m writing in order for it to hold my interest. My imagination thrives on the “what-ifs”.

 What If?

Ok, I still feel that this introductory post is somehow lacking… but I don’t know what is missing. I’ve shared my interests, what I do for a living, where I live, and the people who occupy the biggest, warmest spaces in my life. Let’s see… how about some random facts?

  • I attended a Catholic high school and actually enjoyed it, but my enjoyment was not so great that it prevented me from dropping out in the middle of my junior year.
  • I like to sing and have written a few songs.
  • I’m a libertarian anarchist. (I don’t intend to do much political ranting on this blog, but we’ll just put that fact out on the table in case I fail to resist the temptation to rant.)
  • My favorite TV shows are Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead.
  • I find the subject of economics to be infinitely fascinating.
  • I really am a failed waitress. No, really.
  • My favorite beverage is chai tea.
  • I love sushi.
  • My typing speed is 67 WPM.
  • I know how to grow several types of edible and medicinal mushrooms.
  • I also know how to use chopsticks, a pressure canner, a carpenter’s square and a gun. But I don’t know how to drive a stick shift, operate a sewing machine, or program a remote control.
  • And arguably the most important fact you should know about any person. Which is, where do I fall on the toilet paper debate? Should the toilet paper feed from the bottom, behind the roll, or from the top and in front of the roll? I’ve dedicated some thought to this conundrum, and I believe I have come up with a solution that will please everyone. It’s a toilet paper holder that swivels 180 degrees from left to right, so that the user can choose the TPFD (Toilet Paper Feed Direction) that suits him or her.

I hope all of this serves as a satisfactory introduction. And just to make it a fun, participatory experience for you readers, I invite you to post an introductory comment of your own, below. If you feel so inclined, post two or three random facts about yourself, or some biographical information (not NSA-level, just the kind of stuff you’d tell to a stranger at a social function.)