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 so effortless. But make no mistake, reading and performing from a voice acting script is a skill that voice actors develop through regular practice and unwavering dedication.
Here, you’ll learn how to read a voice acting 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, bringing them to life for amazing creative projects like films, commercials, audiobooks, and more.
The key to achieving a great voice over performance lies in thoroughly understanding the main components of the voice acting script.
Let’s dive in.
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. When you read a voice acting script, pay attention to several different components and ask important questions about the voice acting role, such as:
Who is the character? What’s the character’s age, background and history?
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?
Look for artistic directions that let you know more about the setting, your character’s position, etc. Are certain words meant to be emphasized? You must carefully read the lines to look for italicized or bold words and understand what they mean.
It’s important that you go through each of these components, because every bit of information helps you understand the depth of the character, and the overall message behind their story.
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.
Break the copy down by asking yourself simple questions about the script like, ‘who,’ ‘what,’ ‘why,’ ‘where,’ ‘when’, and ‘how?’
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 you and everyone else before you pick up that script and hit record.
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.
The ‘where’ allows you to create a physical environment for yourself, or for a stage to set your players on in the theatre of the mind. 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.
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 comprehend 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 an understanding of the reason for 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 author or text will provide you with many clues.
As you read through the script, write down the answers to sketch out your character and their relationship to the 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? How does he or she speak?
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 resides 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.
The more you know about the script, the better you can interpret that script. A good understanding results in a richer performance and, thus, the best experience possible for your audience.
In order to truly understand your character and present them well, you need to know the lens through which your character sees the world. How a person sees the world determines how they view themselves, what’s most important, how decisions are made, and how they relate to other people.
When you make a choice as your character, such as choosing what to say, how to say it, or when to flesh out your character’s backstory, make sure you commit to the choice or otherwise it won’t come across with authenticity.
Then, physically play the character in your voice and act on those choices with conviction. For people to believe you, you need to first believe in yourself and the choices you’ve made for your character.
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:
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 voices go up in pitch 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.
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.
Fluctuation involves letting your voice can 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, such as having your pitch increase when asking a question.
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. Adding colour to your reads by 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 in 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 Voices.com’s 6 best vocal warm ups.
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 color or 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.
Voices.com offers a great selection of voice over scripts for you to practice and/or create a demo. These sample scripts cover a wide variety of industries and voice over projects, allowing you to improve your script interpretation and versatility.
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.
Read the script first:
Needless to say, if you get the script before hand, 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.
If your recording space allows you to stand and move around in the booth, that’s excellent. Standing helps you breathe more clearly. It also helps you get into character and make natural movements while voice acting.