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Tools | Narrator

One way to capture simple mistakes like missing a word or putting a comma in the wrong place is to read your text aloud. This only works if you don’t have a brain like mine. I automatically fill in the gaps and read the correct sentence without noticing the mistake. Annoying but true.

Eventually all writers need an editor, then a copy-editor. But it’s always best to polish your work to your best ability before sending a manuscript to either. But if you are like me, and are secretive with your work, the idea of sharing your novel in the rough with anyone is an anathema.

It is true; I could use Apple’s built in voice command. But my favourite software company, Mariner, has a great program called Narrator, and I must say it’s fun to play with. And most importantly it does help catch misplaced periods, missing articles and the like.

I only have one gripe with the software and that is the lack of a master control to slow all characters down by the same degree. (Unless I’m blind and couldn’t find it) But the flexibility and customization it offers does make up for the inconvenience. You can slow the rate of speech; it’s just on an individual basis.

The concept is fairly simple. You have actors whom you can cast as characters, fiddle around with voice pitch and what not, and then allocate to sections of text in the most intuitive way imaginable.

I wasn’t going to bother assigning separate characters to my, well, characters but I realized that it could be a great tool for playwrights and screenwriters so I thought in the interest of offering a better review I would select a chapter and fill it out correctly.

Before I opened the software the idea of labeling who says what sounded like a total pain and I picked the smallest chapter I had. I was really surprised by how easily and quickly one can fill out a whole segment to be read like an audiobook.

I was expecting something complex and difficult to use. Instead it was rather effortless. It seems they reserved the complexity for the back end of the program: intonation.

Clearly Mariner hired a linguist or two, because it does a remarkable job of making up for the biggest flaw in text to speech programs: adding vocal life to the sentences. It looks like a lot of research was done to determine what kind of emphasis certain words tend to have, how strongly they are spoken and with what tone. It’s not perfect, but it is impressive.

And I have to admit, either I’ve done a really good job spelling out made up words, or it is incredibly good at guessing how to pronounce something it wasn’t programmed to handle.

If you are so inclined you can export the project as an AAC so you can listen to it in iTunes or your iPod/Phone/Pad what have you. Can you build an audiobook with it? Yes. Will I be doing that? No.

Unfortunately there is a certain pattern to my words that it doesn’t quite catch. But really without mucking with each individual word, it would be pretty impossible to match what I hear in my head as I write.

The program is designed to be simple and easy to use, not fussy and complicated. And frankly, if it were, I think I wouldn’t recommend it. Instead I do think it can be a useful tool in the writer’s arsenal, especially those working purely with dialogue. And I recommend assigning different voices because it’s rather fun and in retrospect I believe not doing so would sound a little odd.

Considering the sheer length of the epic series I’m working on I probably won’t use it for the whole darn thing. But as I said earlier, it’s fun to play with; a good tool, and I expect I will be using it for shorter pieces.

In sum I’m impressed by the simplicity, intuitive design and ability to add more intonation than anything I’ve seen before. It’s great for a work in progress. But if I ever get as far as an audiobook (shiver) I would either narrate it myself... god what a process; or rope some actors into the project. Which also sounds a bit like a nightmare so I’m not even going to think about it.

Thumbs up Mariner

Image used it is in the public domain


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