Voiceover Auditioning, From a Ballerina’s POV

I was thinking about this during a recent hangout while listening to other voice actors talk about their fears when it comes to auditioning, and I started thinking about my own feelings toward the audition process.

There are times where I do get pretty weirded out and have to talk myself up…but those are few and far between. Usually, it’s those auditions that I understand are bigger than anything I’ve tried before. And it’s not that I’m afraid to audition (yes, it is); it’s more that I’m awestruck by the project (the people behind it, really) and having to quiet the voice telling me to walk away because I’m playing in an area too advanced for little old me.

More often than not, though…I really don’t. It’s just an audition. I sit down with the script. I figure out the voice and the context. I give it a few shots (no more than five, because if I can’t get it in three, I really don’t have a handle on the project.). I walk away (sleep on it if I can get away with it), and come back later and decide if it’s sendable. If it is, I do. If not, I take one more stab at it. It works for me, and I have heard there are others do something similar.

Last night, listening to the others, I started wondering why I’ve pretty much always dealt with voiceover auditions this way. And then I realized it’s because of how auditions were handled in the various ballet programs I was in. When I was little, auditions were just that. You walked in with your group, you learned a few combinations and performed them a few times, and then you left. It was like a really short center class. The older I got, the more auditions became master classes. The choreographer for the project (or someone close to them) came in and taught an extended class where the center work turned into the audition combinations.

We all knew we were in an audition, but we were also in class, in our studio, just doing what we did daily. And those were some of the best classes because you got to see some aspect of dance through a new set of eyes and then someone told you what roles you would be working on in rehearsals for the next two or three months.

This practice of “class as audition” was something I lived with for a pretty decent chunk of my childhood and young adult years. And so I think that’s how my brain sees voiceover auditions. Yes, it’s an audition. I’m showing someone how I’m interpreting their copy and what I can do with it so they can figure out if I fit into their vision of what they’re creating. But at the same time, I’m experimenting and figuring out for myself what I can do when put on the spot. It’s their audition; it’s my play time. And as such, when I complete an audition (because I work remotely), I add it to my practice files for future review and inspiration.

Like I said, I know I’m not the only one who does this. But I think viewing the audition process as an opportunity for personal growth rather than getting tied up in anxiety over whether or not you’re going to be picked is probably a bit healthier and ultimately leads to better results.


Potted Soil – Finding the Right Planning Method

Last summer, while I was playing around with the idea of elemental mages, this one air mage kept showing up in my daily practice. It made sense to try to find her story. But when an idea presented itself, it brought with it earth mage Minerva Watts. I became so fascinated with her and her story that I determined to grow it into something.

When I wrote the original short story, I challenged myself to write it in Third Person Present, a POV I’ve never written before and tend to run right over when I read. (It can literally take me 90% of a story to notice this particular POV when I read it.) It was definitely a challenge, but I survived…until I decided to expand it into a longer story. At the time, I was working a lot with the Scene-Sequel structure, trying to get a feel for it and what it could do. But it wasn’t working for this story.

In very short order, I also blew through an attempt to blend the seven-point structure and Scene-Sequel, and a brief flirtation with the Pixar storytelling method.

Part of the problem was that I had two strands going – the town’s story and Minerva’s story. A simpler structure was necessary to keep things going, and it turned out using the seven-point structure alone was exactly what the story needed. So I laid out both threads, trying to figure out where and how the stories intersected, and I kept Pixar’s core message approach to help guide Minerva’s side of the story. After more struggling (because this really was a learning experience for me), I finally came up with something I liked.

You are welcome to check out “Potted Soil” over on wattpad, along with the original short story “Healing the Garden”. (There is also a narration available for “Potted Soil”.) I included it for those who might be interested in seeing where I started after seeing where I ended up, although if you’ve been thinking about expanding your own work you might find some inspiration…even if that inspiration is how not to do it.

Light Novel vs. Visual Novel

When you get it into your head to explore the different types of media out there, it can be a very…educational…experience. Not only are you learning and juggling new voiceover jargon, you are also learning that the world is bigger than just audiobooks, games, and animation. I ran into this early in my voiceover work, and somehow keep running into it now. So, I thought it might not be the worst idea to start documenting what I’m learning, and maybe even help others out or find people who work with these media who can add to what I’ve learned.

Let’s start with the first terms I ran into years ago that left me saying, “What is that?”: the light novel and the visual novel.

Like some of its fellow unfamiliar terms, a light novel is a Japanese invention. Sort of. Light novels are fast-paced, pulpy novellas, usually aimed at teen and children readers. It’s not unusual for a teen light novel to become popular enough to be adapted into an anime.

Really…not terribly different from wandering the middle grade and YA shelves in any bookstore or library…or Netflix. Heh.

The visual novel also has its origins in Japan. It’s often described as an interactive game genre featuring static images and occasionally incorporating audio, and is most often associated with dating sims and hentai (porn). While the genre is expanding to cover more types of stories, it’s slow going. You would get farther pursuing interactive fiction.

There is also a subgenre, kinetic novels, which are visual novels that lack interactivity. Sometimes, you’ll find these referred to as dynamic novels, although that term sometimes to refer to stories that have some sort of animated display element triggered as the reader moves through the story.

So, that’s round one. I may come back and update this as I explore them more.

Hidden Trail: Writing What You Know

My habit of using wattpad contests to avoid actually working on my own projects continued last month when their science fiction channel hosted a challenge celebrating one of my favorite things: Clark’s Third Law. If you’re unfamiliar: Any sufficiently advanced technology appears as magic to more primitive societies.

Given my fascination with intersections of science and magic, you would think this would have been a simple challenge for me.

You would be wrong. Heh.

I actually managed to lose a lot of sleep over this, mainly because every idea I kept trying ultimately ended up being magic-based technology, which is not the same as technology appearing as magic. We won’t get into exactly how many times I had to sit myself down and lecture myself over the difference, but it was a fair few.

My first thought concerned the pile of notes I have on all the ways I could play with runes in New Glory. While runes are typically seen as tools of magic or divination, I was sure I could make them programmable. I’m sure you can see where the flaw in my thinking happened. I was convinced that a series of magic-powered rune stones lined up and “executed” like the block-based coding programs used to introduce children to coding would definitely work.

Remember, magic-based technology is not actually the same as technology being perceived as magic. No matter how many times you rearrange those magic-powered runes. And I tried many configurations and executions. *sigh*

I finally realized trying to make a traditionally magical object into a bit of science-based technology was not going to happen, and so I started playing with other ideas when I remembered an Internet of Things class I took a couple of years ago. The main class project we were working on involved objects with NFC tags, dongles that provide a locator beacon that reacts to something that comes near enough. (In the case of the class, the “something” was an app-enabled phone.)

I had been reading about the ways different destinations were using NFC technology to create more interactive experiences for visitors, so I didn’t think anything of it when we started working with them in class. Some of my classmates didn’t have that background, and were just fascinated at what could be accomplished with these dongles.

And I suddenly knew how to create a bit of “magical” technology in New Glory.

I’m not done exploring this possibility, but if you’d like to see how I handled its maiden voyage, please feel free to read “Hidden Trail” over on wattpad.

Using Negative Space in Audio Content

When we teach online writing, we spend time focusing on the white space, or the space where text and images aren’t, on the page. Our eyes can only take in so much information before they become fatigued. Art’s negative space works with this same concern – although artists often use the negative space to add another layer into their art.

We can similarly become fatigued by being exposed to too much sound, and so negative space is something the audio creator has to think about as well. We use negative space, those moments of silence, to create and build tensions, but the listener needs those moments of quiet to have a moment to process what they just heard, and to prevent (or at least reduce) fatigue.

Audio creators can also use those moments of quiet to enhance the clarity of the material, using them as an audio punctuation of a sort. In fact, narrators are trained to use actual punctuation in the text to help guide where and how to create moments of brief silence for the listener.What’s funny is that because teaching often comes in the form of a lecture, we’re actually already accustomed to processing these pauses, to help organize what we’re listening into bits of information we can process (or at least file away for later processing before the lecturer moves on to the next topic).

Regardless of the medium, negative space is important to help the viewer or listener better process and enjoy the experience.

What is “Soft” Science Fiction?

I recently saw a tirade about how all science is “hard” science and so we should just do away with the labels “hard” and “soft” altogether. (I’ve actually seen a number of tirades recently that suggest there’s a whole class of science fiction writers unfamiliar with the history of the genre, including some of the most impactful treasures of the genre, but that’s best left alone.)

The problem is science is actually broken into two “classes”, for lack of a better term: hard and soft. The hard sciences are the applied sciences -physics, chemistry, biology, etc. – or what we often think of when we talk about science. Science fiction stories that draw primarily on these fields, often valuing scientific accuracy and terminology over everything else are considered hard science fiction.

The soft sciences, formally recognized as part of the STEM universe, are the social sciences – psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc. Science fiction stories that draw primarily on these fields, often dismissed for their touchy-feely nature and handwavium implementation of the applied sciences, are considered soft science fiction. And strangely, they are just as valid as science fiction based on the applied sciences.

Entertainingly, the dystopian path embraced by so many popular science fiction stories at the moment are more soft than hard in their execution. Many of the “classic” science fiction stories used to practice genre elitism also happen to be soft science fiction, and deeply political in nature.

Perhaps there are reasons writers are encouraged to read far and deep in the genres they choose to write.


For the sake of transparency: I have been working on this post for the last couple of weeks and scheduled it Sunday to post today, with no idea what Tuesday would hold. I point this out because Ursula K. Le Guin was how I was introduced to the concept of soft science fiction, and she was definitely on my mind while I was writing.

Audiobooks and Literacy

There’s been a disturbance in reading circles lately over whether or not audiobooks count as “real reading”.

And I, a former teacher and current narrator, have some thoughts on the matter…and a pretty low opinion of those claiming audiobooks aren’t real reading.

Once upon a time, I taught for several years in a K-12 learning center, where it wasn’t unusual to find reluctant readers among the fifth grade though eighth grade crowd. Some of them were wrestling with learning or physical disabilities that made just focusing on what they were reading difficult, and it didn’t feel like it was worth the fight to them when they could see other kids reading the material quickly. Some of them were still working on comprehension skills, and felt “stupid” because they could read all the words but couldn’t make them make sense.

So they gave up.

While we recommended many of these kids explore graphic novels that targeted either their age group or one group lower, there were some kids who benefited from switching over to audiobooks. And really, it should have occurred to us sooner, because we used listening center methodology common to kindergarten classrooms in our own younger reading programs. For these older kids, they could find and load the audiobook that matched the book their class was reading onto their phone, and then it just looked like they were reading while listening to music when they were really reading along (because they often were trying to hide their struggles).

This workaround helped these kids build and strengthen their reading comprehension skills, ultimately doing better in their English classes as they were better able to understand and work with the material. That’s pretty compelling evidence that listening to a book is “real” reading.

But consider this: When I finally decided to give voiceover a try, I started at the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library, and I’m reaching out to Learning Ally as soon as my schedule permits. Both are dedicated to making textual materials, including educational materials, available to those with vision-related disabilities. And then there are radio reading services, who among their services read newspapers, ads and all, to an audience composed of people with vision-related disabilities who benefit from the service.

This is where I lose my patience with people who look down their nose at audiobooks as quality reading experiences. Actually, this is where I hope those people have perfect eyesight every day of their life and never have to consider alternate ways to read. Or where I ask if those same people think reading Braille is not “real” reading…because it’s pretty much the same situation. Not everyone has perfect eyesight, or eyesight that can be adjusted through medical means (because that’s what glasses are) , and they still read…be it books, magazines…for pleasure, for work, for learning…through whatever means they can get their hands on. If you dismiss this whole group of people who read through other means, for whatever reason, it actually indicates that you’re an ableist, someone can only empathize with the needs of people in absolutely perfect health.

Bottom line: There are a lot of people, in every single demographic, who benefit from audiobooks for a wide variety of reasons. That doesn’t make them lesser readers. It doesn’t make those who look down on them the literary elite. And maybe it’s time to accept that reading is reading, regardless of how it takes place.