Creating Characters for Voice Over Scripts

It may not be what you think it is!

If you want to create characters for voice over scripts, the first thing you need to know is ‘what that actually means’.

Every day in the commercial world of advertising and in the corporate, business, non-broadcast world, there are so many different kinds of voice over scripts being created and recorded.

Mostly they’re quite straight, just information delivery or messages delivered in a conversational way. And then there are those voice over scripts that require you to jump into someone else shoes.

I call this ‘character work’.

Many of those I coach would love to do character work.

This often comes from a history of playing with different voices and sounds, being a good mimic and loving the characters that we see in cartoons and animated film.

When you’re doing that you’re being spontaneous.  You’re improvising!  

That is, whatever you’re saying just comes straight out of your mouth, often informed by what’s going on around you at that moment, without any planning or preparation.

There’s humour, energy, dynamics and rhythm when you do this…and people comment on it all the time.

The ability to do this can mean that you could have abilities to work in voiceover.  Being great at changing your voice is a real skill.  Being a mimic shows that you have a good ear.  These are important in voiceover.

However, there’s one element missing in all the above.  There was no script!

No matter how clever you are with character voices, those abilities won’t ever morph into a voiceover career unless you have ticked a few other boxes, such as:

·      You’re a great sight reader 

·      You understand that voiceover is about delivering a message on behalf of an advertiser or client 

·      You can look at a script and work out what’s going on, what the central message is 

·      You can look at the language in the script and find the important (or key) words and phrases

When you can tick these off you’re ready to begin playing with creating characterful reads.

But in voiceover, ‘character work’ is firstly about telling a story, rather than creating a voice.

We need to totally believe the character and the story you’re telling. 

Sometimes that means that the character you’re creating to read the commercial has a voice that ‘sounds’ quite like you, but you’ve jumped into someone else’s shoes, emotionally to tell the story of this particular script.

You need to be careful that you don’t just make it about what voice you will use.

So, you need to look at the script and work out what’s going on.  Once you’ve worked that out, then you’ll be able to play around with the read to find the right voice for your character.

Sometimes is as simple as deciding what kind of personality you have.  Here is what I mean.  Could you be:

  • Brash and confident, or
  • Shy and innocent?

What are you thinking?   Are you:

  • Confused or bewildered,
  • Determined.

What is your attitude?  Do you think it’s:

  • Silly, or
  • Serious,
  • Important, or
  • Funny?

Just as in life, when we relate a story to a friend, how compelling that story is, will be defined by your attitudes and your opinion of what you’re talking about. 

As close as you can, when creating characters for voice over scripts, it needs to have those elements.

Of course who your character is, will depend on who you’re talking to, as in the audience or market.  That’s an all-important thing to know before you choose your voice.  You need to work out what the advertisers wants the audience to do.  How do they want them to respond.  It’ll all be there in the language.  You just need to find the parts of the script where that language lies.

The other thing about scripts that call for character is that you don’t have to ‘just’ read the words that are on the page.

You can add personality and colour by including things like:

  • Intake of breath,
  • Sighs,
  • Giggles,
  • Groans

…and other exclamations that reveal more about your character.

One important thing to remember is that when you’re finding the right voice, is not so much about ‘what’ you’ve chosen, but ‘why’.

I’ve added a script for you to practice with.

“It’s tough to show your savings account that you appreciate it.
You can’t exactly surprise it with breakfast in bed, or take it on a weekend getaway, or give it a foot massage.
Pretty much the only way to show your savings account you care, is to give it more of what it wants the most …money”

Mostly character scripts will come with a ‘brief’ or some specifications (specs) for you to follow or be guided by.

For this script it’s this.  Your audience is young women new to the workforce.  You’re answering a question. “How do you show your savings account you appreciate it?”

Now you know who your audience is.  Next you need to do the analyses with the language in the script.  Have a read first

Okay, the first line is the answer to the question.  Find the key word, words of phrase.  Don’t forget, it’s the first line of the ad, so key words or phrases are words that tell us what this is about.

If you decided is was ‘savings account’ you’d be right.

The next line is your opinion of how difficult it would be to show a ‘savings account’ that you appreciate it.

You need to break this single line, into three separate thoughts or ideas.  Each needs to stand alone, as though that was the only thing you were going to say. We need to believe that you’re just making this up, so you need to sound as though you just though of the idea.

The next line is you ‘getting it’ and giving the correct answer (in advertising/concept terms).  We need to hear you discovering the correct answer.

Try the lines many different ways, but don’t just say the words differently, with different emphasis or attack, say it differently for a different ‘why’ reason.

Record yourself, so you can see which version works best.  You may find all your versions sound the same. That’s when you need to start rally listening to what you’re doing, as you’re doing it.

I hope this helps you to explore the world of discovering how many ways you can create characters for voice over scripts.

Happy voiceovering!