The Acting Of Narration – Narrator Johnny Heller

Audio month

Johnny Heller is a narrator of audio books and as all narrators, considers himself an actor.  With over 500 narrations, Johnny has narrated in almost all genres.



Johnny started his narrating career in the 90’s and holds to his name these (as well as many other narrations):

  • MASH
  • Marley and Me
  • The Mickey Rawlins Baseball Murder Mysteries by Troy Soos
  • the Platypus Police Squad series
  • The Horrible Harry books
  • The Vampire Files series by PN Elrod,
  • Dan Gutman baseball card time travel books
  • The NERDS series
  • THE FAT MAN – A Tale of North Pole Noir
  • The Perks Of Being A Wallflower


When asked about the similarities between Narration and narrating, Johnny responds,
Audio book narration IS acting. People will often ask me -“are you still acting?”  Of course I am! I don’t know that there is a more organic acting form than the audiobook narration.  You have a script – the book; an audience; and you.  

The major difference between stage and screen and the audio art is that the narrator plays all the roles.  I am not – when narrating reacting to cues or the immediate response from an audience or playing camera angles or scenes as plotted by a director. The narrator is a story-teller.  The narrator must be immersed in the truth of the author and faithful moment to moment to the text.  It is essential that I share the author’s truth. 
In a theater piece, the actor plays a single character and he immerses  himself in the life of that one character.  In narration, the actor (still acting!) plays the narrator and all of the characters – giving each one life as dictated by the authors’ truth which we get from the text.  Each character has his/her own traits and the narrator must be adept making choices that propel the story forward.  A flawed or faulty choice will halt the narrative flow because it disconnects the actor and therefore the audience from the authors truth.  
It’s a very risky thing to narrate a book and one must make choices and one must be an actor with a gift for storytelling. 
Johnny personally will read through a book once prior to narrating to get a feel for the voice of the book.
As I read, I make a list of characters and next to the character I note whatever I need to write to tell me who that character is.  Is she mean, sweet…if I was casting it for a film, who would I pick.  Is this guy a Clint Eastwood type or a Jon Cryer type?  I make notes that may not make sense to somebody else but tell me what I need to know to help me make appropriate choices.
The hardest books to narrate according to Johnny are the ones that are emotionally wrenching.  Out of his personal narrations he mentions Marley and Me,and A Day No Pigs Will Die.  He especially is proud of an amazing book called The Education Of Little Tree.  Written so beautifully he says, that he was brought to tears several times while narrating.
When asked if there are any “tricks of the trade, Johnny responded:
I have a few “tricks” although I’m not sure I’d call them that.  I always have some tissues with me.  Not just for tears! but you never really know what’s gonna come out of your body at any given moment until you are in a booth hoping for quiet!  
I recommend remaining hydrated.
A slice of apple can keep your mouth moist (without being slushy) and settle those stomach noises.
When you find your mind wandering during your recording to things like: “hmmmm, I wonder what we’re gonna have for dinner” or “I really gotta do the laundry today…” YOU NEED A BREAK!  I frequently step out of the booth and just take a few moments and not think about the project.  Just to clear my head. If you find yourself wandering, you are not in touch with the text and you are not telling the story anymore.
And any mistake is fixable!  Nothing is etched in stone — if you yawned, belched, yodeled – whatever, you can fix it, don’t worry. But note it because you really must fix it!
Check out more about Johnny on his website:
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Audio month
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41 thoughts on “The Acting Of Narration – Narrator Johnny Heller

  1. Audio books are a one man show. I’m very spoiled by Jim Dale’s narration of the Harry Potter series. The guy who did Artemis Fowl was like that too. Do you know anyone else with a similar style? I’ll have to check out Johnny via another app. I couldn’t really access from WP.

      1. Nathaniel Parker is the British actor who does audio book work like Jim Dale and Stephen Fry. I heard one of the Artemis Fowl audio books. I read a few of them when I used to teach and checked out the audio book to try to get my girls into it.

  2. I always read the narrator’s bio on the back of the audiobook and I love the broad range of backgrounds they have. Most did do screen or stage acting at some point and I agree with Johnny that it’s a form of acting. From my experiences, more like shooting a movie or TV show with one character.

  3. I’ve always loved reading books to people. I think it would be fun to narrate an audiobook.

  4. Very interesting interview! I’ve always wondered about the narrators. Truth be told, I actually try to stay away from books narrated by the author… it sounds contradictory, but I don’t usually get the same feeling about the book from an author narrating as I do a legit actor/narrator.

  5. I found this fascinating, Sheila. No question, Johnny must be VERY talented in this way, though I’ve never heard any of his HUGE selection of work. I think I’ll be getting more into audio versions of books once I have steady illustrating to do. It’s perfect for that 🙂

  6. While I am by no means a professional, something you might not know about me, Sheila, is I have narrated over 20 books! I have a client that is blind that pays me to read books on tape for him, 🙂

  7. I never thought of bodily noises when it came to audiobook recording, I loved reading about his suggestions. I especially like how the emotional books could be the hardest to read. I know I’ve cried during audiobooks that touch me.

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