Runner on a racetrackHow can you get your character vocalizing even before they’re supposed to speak?

“Pre-life” is the improvised audible utterance you might make before delivering a scripted line. You could also see it as a vocal form of preparation for what is to come.
Find out how pre-life comes into play and how you can use the technique to improvise in character while adding more context to your read.

What is Pre-Life?

When I was in an Advanced Animation Voice-Over weekend workshop, the instructor told us that writers give voice artists “Pre-life” cues by writing words into the script such as Er, Um, Ah, or Ouf.
These short, staccato words are the director’s attempts to give you the shape of an exertion or pre-life sound without actually telling you how to vocalize the utterance verbatim.
I trust you can imagine how challenging it might be to even anticipate what your interpretation will be let alone try to write out exactly how they might expect a scream, howl, or cry to sound.

Having Artistic Direction and Improv Skills Come in Handy

Your task is to interpret what the writer is hinting at and run with it! The onus is on you to vocally create what the writer is limited in scripting.
Don’t read these pre-life words as they appear, for instance, don’t say “Um.” Work with the copy and improvise.

Ask yourself how your character would deliver the pre-life utterance. If you get to know your character well, you can improvise anything from how they might breathe, cough, laugh, hesitate, and more.
One suggestion that I have is to give a little pre-life before an action takes place, even if the pre-life utterances don’t appear in the script. This is voice acting, after all!
You can also squeeze some of that pre-life into the line that you’re reading. It doesn’t have to be separated by a clear glottal stop or decisive breath… it can organically flow into what you’re about to say. Even the way that you inhale can be used to fuel pre-life delivery.

Have You Been Making Use of this Acting Technique?

Some people do this without even being aware that they are doing it. Perhaps it comes naturally to you!
Others need to work at this technique and might have to write out the pre-life to a degree considering its duration, motivation, and how the voice may modulate to achieve your goal.
Comment if you’re a fan of this technique! I’d love to hear about how you employ this technique. Reply either by email or by commenting directly on the blog.
Best wishes,

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Stephanie Ciccarelli is the Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Classically trained in voice, piano, violin and musical theatre, as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, her podcast Sound Stories serves an audience that wants to achieve excellence in storytelling. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.


  1. I think I am one of the lucky individuals this comes natural to. I have not broken into the official voice over biz (yet) but growing up I have noticed I have been very good at ‘being’ the character. This is a good read for when I actually make it. 🙂

  2. Hi Stephanie and Everyone,
    I don’t do character work at all…but pre-life is something I do quite frequently in both auditions and sessions… I may edit the pre-life out afterward, but it really helps to get “in the moment” and to give the feel that the writer had in his head…from the very first word.
    In a conversational piece, sometimes it’s as simple as saying,
    “you know…” and starting the copy. Then edit out the “you know” and you’re automatically more conversational!
    Hey–side note— the VoiceOver Insider is out for Dec. You can check it out at and sign up at It’s FREE. Read Stephanie’s article in it this month!

  3. (I hope I’m not doing the blog equivalent of bumping an old thread, but this just popped up on the @voicesdotcom Twitter feed)
    That’s a rocking tip, Stephanie! I hadn’t really thought about subbing in a sensible, actual sentence or fragment in place of an um/er, but it makes complete sense. And adding improv just makes things more fun.
    One similar thing I have found in the past with both stage acting and recording audio drama is the importance of making a “and then I–” really come to a screeching halt to sound convincing.
    It might not be a pro-tip, but I’ve found that thinking about the next logical word, and starting the first syllable for it really makes a difference in creating that clipped, cut off sound.

  4. Hi Kevin,
    Thank you for chiming in! I’m glad that you did 🙂 Thank you also for sharing your tips and ideas. I hope all is well with you.
    Best wishes,


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