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A Beginner’s Guide to Narrating Romance Novels

Whether you’re getting into audiobook narration for the first time or looking to dive into a new genre of voice acting, romance novels can be bread and butter for the working narrator. They’re abundant and popular, and if you’re good at them, they can make great steady work (Or as steady as anything can be in the arts).

For the curious, here are a few helpful things to keep in mind.

Always Vet Your Romance Novels

This is important for any audiobook narration gig, especially for any containing sensitive material. From a professional standpoint, you don’t want to skim lightly, start narrating and realize halfway through that a character for whom you’d used a Midwest accent is actually from the Bronx.

If you’re working through a studio, there can be tight turnaround requests, but don’t let that pressure you into skimping on the homework. You need to make sure you’re comfortable narrating everything on the page before you say yes (I made this mistake more than once as a beginning narrator–don’t be like me!).

Know Your Boundaries

When vetting your materials, you must also know your boundaries.

Romance novels aren’t for everyone. They often contain graphic erotic content (not always limited to humans if you’re delving into fantasy romance) and most times don’t come with content warnings. To do a good job narrating, you can’t judge the material. To take care of yourself as a human, you need to know if certain topics are uncomfortable or off-limits for you.

Not every manuscript will be right for every narrator. Find your limits and be ready to advocate for yourself.

Keep Track of Your Characters

This is an important one, especially if you end up narrating multiple books for the same authors.

Prolific romance writers often have multiple books in the same universe, featuring different repeating characters in turn, even if it’s not originally billed as a series. If you make bold choices for someone you think is a side character who later gets her own feature romance novel, you could easily narrate yourself into a corner. This can be tricky with novels that feature extended character friend groups that eventually each get featured but stay in each other’s novels.

You can only have so many voices without delving into dialects or distinct vocal choices that may not make sense for the setting, or the author’s description of their voices (I once narrated an extended universe where almost every male protagonist was described as having a “deep, husky voice,” and they were all from the same state). 

One strategy for this scenario is to amplify a key “flavor” of each character’s voice when they are part of the supporting cast. Playing with things like pace and rhythm can help, and having a cheat code lined up (this is the sardonic realist, this is the gym bro, this is Miss Trust Fund, etc., whatever calls up a quick profile in your brain). When they are the main protagonist, you can pull back, find more nuance and make their inner voice something more natural for you and more easily digestible for an entire novel. 

Advice for the Spicy Scenes in Romance Novels

It’s understandable to feel intimidated if you’ve never narrated erotic scenes before. The best advice I can give is to pay attention to pacing, just as you would in any other high-adrenaline scene. The listeners should be able to feel the build of tension, climax and release through the narration.

While Western culture has a lot of built-in sexual hang-ups and judgments, conveying that narration is neither honoring the text nor serving the reader. Don’t get hung up on physics or realism; most romance novels are for entertainment, not education. Additionally, remember that you’re still shooting for genuine connection in the scene; it shouldn’t feel more performative than anything else your protagonist is describing. 

At the end of the day, it’s all part of the job. As long as you’re respecting your personal and professional boundaries, have fun, and happy booking!

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