The listener knows the gender of the narrator and is not expecting him/her to sound like the other gender. Female narrators shouldn’t necessarily use lower pitch for male characters, nor should male narrators instinctively use a higher pitch to voice female characters.
Each character’s voice will be derived from their personality, which you discover through reading the book and taking notes. You want to be able to visualize a 3-dimensional person and ACT their part according to their scene intentions in the subtext.
Simply distinguishing characters on the basis of generic vocal tricks (changing pitch, gruffness, etc.) does not make the characters sound like real people and isn’t a sustainable approach over the course of a book. Remember, real people have differences in cadence, breathiness, musicality, and articulation. You may find that changing your posture even slightly is a helpful technique for physically embodying a different character.
Regardless of a character’s gender, I think of who I would cast in the role and then channel that person in my performance. The person could be an actor or someone famous, or it could be a family member or friend. This technique enabled me to think of 5 men I could picture as the drag queens who were in several prolonged scenes together in 2 books! If no one comes to mind, I start giving the character a back story that would shape how they would sound.
In books with dozens of characters, you may find that some of your minor characters tend to sound similar. That’s okay. Your main goal is to make sure that the major character voices are distinctive.
Other resources on this topic:
- Grammy-winner director Paul Ruben wrote 2 comprehensive articles that every narrator should read:
- My article How to Act Like an Audiobook Narrator, which discusses text analysis and includes comments from other industry pros specifically about voicing characters of the other gender.
- Coach and narrator Pat Fraley offers many lessons about character development on his page of free lessons. Look for the entry titled Working Inside Out.
- APA members will find at least 2 past webinars on distinguishing characters under the Resources/Webinars menu option after logging in to audiopub.org:
- a 2015 webinar named “Differentiating Voices: How Characters Age”
- a 2016 webinar named “Playing Someone Not at All Like You”
- This NY Times article discusses changes to the voice as we age.
- Work with a coach listed in Audiobook Village.