There’s no doubt that you’ve heard extremely talented voice actors read scripts with great voice control and style, making the whole process seem effortless. But make no mistake, reading and performing from a voice acting script is a skill that voice actors develop over time through regular practice and unwavering dedication, as you’ve read in the previous chapter.
Here, you’ll learn how to read a voice over script like a pro and deliver an amazing performance every time. These script reading tips and tricks apply to all kinds of acting jobs, whether you’re voice acting or acting in front of the camera.
After all, acting is all about interpreting scripts and personifying characters, effectively bringing them to life for amazing creative projects like films, commercials, audiobooks, eLearning modules, and more.
The key to achieving a great voice over performance lies in thoroughly understanding the main components of the voice acting script.
In this Chapter you’ll find:
Let’s dive in.
Understanding Your Voice Over Script
In order to understand your voice acting script, you have to do some analysis and critical thinking to uncover your character’s point of view, motivations, situation, and more. Rarely do voice actors perform a “dry read” where they haven’t read the script in advance to familiarize themselves with it.
When you read a script, pay attention to several different components to answer these important questions about the voice acting role:
- Character information: Who is the character? What’s the character’s age, background, and history?
- Plot information: What happened or will happen to the character? Who else is with them in the scene? Where is the action taking place?
- Voice over style and tone: How should the character’s voice sound? Is the voice over role for a child or adult? What are the character’s emotions?
- Artistic directions: Look for artistic directions that tell you more about the setting, your character’s position, and more. Are certain words meant to be emphasized? Carefully read the lines to look for italicized or bolded words to understand what they mean.
It’s important that you go through each of these components since every bit of information helps you understand the depth of the character and the overall message behind their story. Even the shortest commercial spots need to be considered in this fashion. Your interpretation will shine through in the audition because you did the prep work.
Getting into Character
Knowing the ins and outs of your character is essential for any voice actor; it’s what allows you to deliver a believable performance. A script contains all the information you need to know, such as how characters behave, what motivates them, how they relate to others, and why they do the things they do.
Breaking Down Your Voice Acting Character
Break the copy down by asking yourself simple questions about the script like ‘who,’ ‘what,’ ‘why,’ ‘where,’ ‘when’, and ‘how?’
Who are you playing?
When reading the script, look to see who you are in the script and what role you play. Are you a narrator who is supposed to be all-knowing? Are you a character in need of a back story?
The ‘who’ question also refers to other characters in the script. Make a list of all the characters you come into contact with and write down bits of information about them to see how they relate to each other. This information can help you to understand the story or script better as a whole, and make your interpretation more fluid and believable. Each character is there for a reason, so you need to know who your character is in relation to everyone else before you hit record.
When is the story taking place?
Figure out when the story takes place, including the time period. What is the time-frame for the story unfolding? Does it cover an hour, or cover many years before reaching a conclusion? Answering the ‘when’ can help you establish a timeline and gain the historical context that will form your character.
Where does the story take place?
The ‘where’ allows you to create a physical, or imaginary, environment for yourself. Having an idea of your physical location, based upon a place that could be either fictitious or real, can help you to visualize your surroundings and understand the world that the characters live in. An understanding of this particular element can help you to suspend your audience’s disbelief as you paint word pictures and soundscapes.
Tip: Many voice actors bring a photo of an environment similar to their setting to help them channel the correct energy into the read. For example, if you’re in a frozen tundra, a photo of the Arctic landscape helps voice actors feel cold while reading to sound believably chilled.
Why does it matter?
The ‘why’ question may be the most profound of all. Answering ‘why’ helps you better understand the story’s context, which tells you what’s going on, how it affects the characters, and why it matters.
When you answer these ‘why’ questions, you’re able to more fully understand the author’s intent with the characters, plot, theme, and so on. On a deeper level, you can also discover the purpose for a character or gain insight for why the character finds themself in a particular situation. An appreciation for these answers allows you to picture beyond what the audience would see.
When you ask ‘how,’ you instinctively need to find a solution. How does this factor into the story? How should you interpret this phrase? How can you best deliver your lines? Studying the script reveals the answers to these different questions. A good script will provide you with many clues.
Want to see these tips put into practice? Voice over coach and audio producer Bruce Kronenburg shares his knowledge and experience of script interpretations in this webinar.
Use Your Answers to Create a Character Sketch
As you read through the script, write down the answers to sketch out your character and the relationship to their world and others around them, tracing their narrative arc.
Most importantly, you must always consider how your character sounds. Does the character have an accent? Do they have a speech impediment of any kind? Do they speak from the side of their mouth? What is their speech cadence?
This exercise helps you develop a persona for your character, allowing you to easily slide into the role and create a more authentic and organic performance.
For example, Nintendo’s Mario is an Italian plumber who lives in the Mushroom Kingdom. He is quite small and pudgy, and his life mainly consists of completing thrilling missions to save Princess Peach.
The talented voice actor behind Mario, Charles Martinet, manages to capture the whole story of the character through voice over. He gives Mario a thick, Italian accent and an upbeat voice, making audiences believe that he’s a fun, Italian plumber with enough energy for any adventure.
This just goes to show how knowing every detail about the character elevates your voice over performance.
Tip: Learn about the 6 Ways of Getting into Character.
Technical Vocal Components to be Aware of
Reading a script as a professional voice actor script has two sides. The first is the creative side of understanding and interpreting your character, and the second is the technical side of voice control while delivering your lines.
Here are the technical vocal components you have to be aware of:
Recognize Your Vocal Intonation
Intonation is how your voice rises and falls as you speak. You can think of intonation as your voice cadence at the end of a sentence, when you ask a question, and so on. As an example, most people’s intonation goes up at the end when they ask a question.
Intonation can vary between cultures and may affect how the listener receives what the speaker is saying. As a voice actor, you must be aware of these changes and ensure that your intonation doesn’t affect the style and tone of the character.
Focus on Phrasing
When you focus on the phrasing, you’re able to get through sentences in a script with ease, making the most of your breath and tone.
A phrase can consist of an idea or fragment of a sentence, or it can be an entire thought. While reading a script, punctuation can help you determine how each phrase should sound. Mark up the script with the notes and punctuation you need to help you deliver the believable read you’re striving for.
Fluctuations in Voice Overs
Fluctuation involves letting your voice go up and down at will. This differs from intonation because fluctuation refers to the mastery of a vocal range, while intonation refers to speaking in a certain manner.
For example, fluctuating your voice means that you’re able to bring your voice up or down in pitch, kind of like singing up and down a scale.
If you have a wide vocal range, you can hit a wide range of tones. If your vocal range is limited to less than an octave (think of a musical scale representing one octave), you can practice to maximize your range and make it work for you.
Fluctuating your voice adds interest and flair to a read. Think of it like adding color and spice to your reads—fluctuating your voice can greatly improve your performance, especially when doing voice overs for narrative-based projects like audiobooks or animated films.
Elasticity is the ease with which your voice fluctuates or leaps around. That’s why warming up your voice is so important. Warming up the full extent of your range provides you with confidence and the ability to experiment, play with, and shape your voice. This is a very important aspect of voicing for people who do character voice work. Keeping your voice well hydrated by drinking plenty of water also helps.
Tip: See Chapter 7 for more on vocal warm ups.
Voice Acting Versatility
Versatility refers to the different ways you can use your voice and your ability to change how it sounds. It takes into account your vocal range, timber (relates to the tone quality of your voice), tone, enunciation, and other vocal qualities.
If you can read for a variety of projects or characters, you’re a versatile voice actor. Some people, for example, are good at recording commercials and can also do animation voice acting.
Although these fields may seem polar opposites, a versatile voice actor can work in very different fields of voice acting and be very successful.
Note: Versatility is listed last here for a reason. Versatility is a nice-to-have, but truly everyone has their niche! Many voice actors become successful by taking on projects they know they can perform and complete well. After you figure out your niche—say, if you book lots of commercials and animation work, but don’t do as well with eLearning jobs—you can dedicate more of your time to auditioning for the roles you’re more likely to land.
Practice Reading the Voice Over Script, Again
Voices offers a great selection of voice over scripts for you to practice with or to create a demo from. These sample scripts cover a wide variety of industries and voice over projects, allowing you to improve your script interpretation and versatility.
The Top 3 Tips for Reading a Voice Acting Script
1. Stay relaxed: It is crucial to stay relaxed while reading and performing with a script. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should read more slowly, but rather with a calm and focused mind. This will help you reduce loud breathing sounds and silly mistakes.
2. Read the script first: Needless to say, if you get the script beforehand, you should always go through it a few times before the recording session. This way, you’ll be familiar with the lines and not miss important stylistic notes and pauses.
3. Move freely: If your recording space allows you to stand and move around in the booth, that’s excellent. Standing helps you breathe more easily. It also helps you get into character and make natural movements while voice acting.