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Stephen King: Audiobooks Are The Written Word's Acid Test


By Stephanie Ciccarelli

August 24, 2009

Comments (10)

Stephen KingIs the act of simply "listening" to an audiobook akin to "reading"?

Just how powerful is the spoken word?

Hear what author Stephen King has to say about audiobooks and make your own judgment!

Audiobooks alla King

Novelist Stephen King is no stranger to audiobooks, in fact, he even has an audiobook archive on his website detailing all of his books that have been narrated.

Recently, King shared his thoughts about the relevance of audiobooks from a reading standpoint.

King relates, "Some...claim that listening to audiobooks isn't reading. I couldn't disagree more. In some ways, audio perfects reading...Audio is merciless. It exposes every bad sentence, half-baked metaphor, and lousy word choice...the spoken word is the acid test. They don't call it storytelling for nothing."

I think Stephen is onto something here!

The Acid Test

There is no easier or more dramatic way of testing the mettle of a book than reading it aloud. As Stephen King points out, discovering the good (and the bad) in a book is extremely easy when someone is interpreting the text, punctuation marks, segues, and so on through the application of the spoken word.

How much can professional narration do to enhance the written word?

Although a good narrator can make a mediocre book sound better, the same narrator is in a position to do much more with a truly great book, able to elevate it to even higher artistic climes using their voice.

The Temptation to Tinker

When you come across a script, a book, or a string of ad copy that needs a little TLC, it is tempting to try and resuscitate the phrasing, grammar, and or choice of words. While tempting it verily is, solicited it is not!

Your read, being the acid test, may be the catalyst for change, presenting an inkling of what can be done to improve a script suited to vocal delivery and aural consumption.

Just be sure to run these ideas by the people who hired you first -- also, keep in mind that the script went through many hands (and perhaps the eagle eyes of editors) before it got to you, meaning they may not want (or implement) your suggestions.

Massaging copy is often a no-no unless someone (generally the copywriter or company you are working for) signs off on the changes. It is an uphill battle but it can be done!

What Do You Think?

How to you discern good from bad copy? Is it something in the rhythm of the read or can you feel it in your bones?

I'd love to hear from you and how your ongoing (if not daily!) acid tests have been going!

Best wishes,


Photo of Stephen King via StephenKing.com

Related Topics: acid test, books, hired, how to, narrators, scripts, spoken word, Stephen King, writers, written word


    Excellent observations!

    When I narrate an audiobook, I find every flaw in the writing. To interpret the book, a narrator needs to become involved with the text in a way that a silent reader does not. A well written book flows off the tongue, and plays like music to the ear. Problematic passages can hit sour notes and need a highly skilled actor to make them work.

    Posted by:

      I'm a big fan of Stephen King and this is one reason why. He gets it. When reading his books I am almost always transcended-- there comes a moment where it feels I am no longer reading. It's weird but it's like I'm watching a movie and that I'm not reading at all.

      Anyway, I agree completely with what he says. When transferring copy from page to voice it clearly shines a light on what is well written and what isn't. Diane put this much better than I.

      There are some things that are print copy that do not convert well to audible copy. In advertising, this can sometimes work in print however for books, at least for this reader, it is death to me.

      That said, when I do encounter copy that may be less than stellar I try not to judge it but look at it as a challenge to find that golden nugget of brilliance. Of course, it may just be fools gold.

      Posted by:

        Wouldn't it be great if on occasion copywriters were made to read their copy out loud?! This may put an end to endless sentences, words that clutter, copy that you couldn't possibly fit into 30 seconds without passing out, tongue twisting words & sentences that induce lock-jaw and all kinds of other hazards.....

        But hey, the brilliant copy you also come across can make up for that :) ...right?

        Posted by:
        • Mike Lang
        • August 25, 2009 7:19 AM

          Well said, Diane!

          Posted by:

            That's why writers should always read their work aloud.

            Posted by:
            • Joan Vinall-Cox
            • August 25, 2009 7:30 AM

              My personal acid test comes from a continual reading of the Bible.

              Most people who read the Bible read verse to verse, others read line to line without paying much attention to punctuation.

              My thoughts are that if you can get a Bible text to come alive, with characters and description of events without making it sound like you're giving a sermon or like you're reading scriptures, you've done a good job. Giving voice to Bible characters is a great tool in and of itself as it helps the text live for the reader.

              Posted by:

                As a master storyteller, Stephen King is absolutely 'dead on' in his assessment of the importance of reading copy aloud. I've found that it serves two major purposes: the 'acid test' concept applies to both copy AND reader. Sometimes (or should I say most times) reading aloud without characterization will strengthen the voice actor in areas of breathing, pacing tone, etc.

                Posted by:

                  Excellent article. Here's to the written and spoken word!

                  Posted by:

                    What brought me to voice over? Was it my college education at a Jesuit University? The many acting classes I have taken? The plays I have performed in? My work as a broadcasting professional in television and radio?

                    None of these, really.

                    It was my mother, who lovingly read story after story after story to me every single night at bedtime. She brought the characters to life. She made me laugh. She made me cry. And somehow, it all stuck with me at the very core of my being.

                    Thank you Stephen King, for re-affirming the importance of my work.

                    Debbe Hirata

                    Posted by:


                      I loved this piece. To get an author to agree...and champion...the audio version of his/her work is really something!

                      As the former president of the California Writers' Club, I know how crazy-in-love with their work an author can be.

                      After a conversation with Marc Cashman (one of your subscribers), I'm forging ahead to equip myself/studio and will soon become a member of your marvelous site!

                      Jay Lloyd

                      Posted by:
                      • Jay Lloyd
                      • August 27, 2009 9:07 AM

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