How To Create Brilliant Character Scripts
We all love the idea of voicing a character script – that’s why they call it voice acting!
I just wish there were more around.
They’re always so much fun to record, usually because they’ve been written by a copywriter who really knows how to craft a great character script from what is basically pretty bland information.
However, character scripts are more complex than other straighter styles.
There are several different layers that, one by one, you need to understand, to create a read that stands out on air.
So what do you do next time you’re next faced with a character script?
Or, what do you do if you know you have a range of brilliant character voices and want to create something for your demo that will get you work?
Here’s my “insider process” for dealing with this style of script.
First Up…Voice Over Coach Technique for: How not to fall flat on your face as a character voice actor!
Is this you?
You’re handed a character script you give it a quick read and say, “what kind of voice will I use for this?”
Well, stop it! Or you will fall flat on your face!
Because, before you make such an important decision there are a few things you need to know first.
This is the order I use to get “all my ducks in a row” before I make a decision about what voice to use:
- Find out as much information as you can about the character: From the director or producer – but be warned, don’t focus on a voice yet!
- Work out who the character is talking about: These will be the other characters, who usually don’t have any lines but are referred to, sometimes paraphrased or mimicked
- Work out who the character is talking to: Usually it’ll be just one person
- Work out the story the character is telling: Break this down to one sentence paraphrasing the ad
- Find all the words and phrases that are the ad: Note: these are different from the story
- Now read it for time: When you’re adjusting your read for time, always save the time by moving a little faster through character stuff. Leave the pace in the story of the ad alone. It needs to be the most important, and what the “half listening” audience hears
- Now, go find a voice!
Okay! Yes, phew!!
There are a lot of elements to consider in a character script.
So let’s do a bit of deep dive analysis to help you when you’re faced with this kind of script.
Have a read of this script for Carpet Choice, a carpet and flooring retailer.
It’s titled: ‘Spring Catalogue Sale’. Sounds innocuous enough!
Read it through, so you can begin to understand what the writer’s trying to do – create a very different kind of ad from the usual price and product promo for their clients’ Carpet Choice.
“Thanks to the Carpet Choice Catalogue Sale, Mum and Dad have been in, like, serious negotiation.
Mum wants new carpet…Dad says we can’t afford it.
Mum says with these great catalogue prices, we’d be mad not to buy now.
She also wants to look at a timber floor…a fantastic buy from Carpet Choice that will also save money ‘cos it’s DIY…whatever that means.
Dad’s not impressed.
Mum says we could also win a $10,000 Deluxe Home Makeover.
Dad grabs the car keys and we’re off to Carpet Choice.
He’s not silly.”
So, let’s work out what to do
Of course, you will have been booked for a character read, but you might not know what the character is until you get to the studio.
1 Often a character script will just require you to jump into someone else’s shoes, rather than create a ‘character voice’.
For this script, it’s the voice of a kid – however, unless you are a kid or your voice sounds young, you will have to create a voice.
Based on my earlier list, the first thing you’ll want to know is the age of the kid.
Because knowing that will inform the kids attitude to the other characters in the script or to the story he or she is telling.
I say he or she, because the script doesn’t say boy or girl…but can you work out which it would have been?
To me it seems very girly.
One, because it’s someone relating a story to another person – reporting, if you like…and two, it’s gossipy!
Girls love to tell stories about what happened, who said what to who and what they said back…and on and on. Fun eh?
I would say the age would work best at about 14 or 15.
Then the ‘kid’ is young enough to be called kid but mature enough to have a take on her parent’s relationship.
You can discuss all these possibilities with the Producer.
2 Then you need to work out what the story is and who it’s about.
For this look at the language used.
For instance there’s a great phrase in the first line – ‘serious negotiation’!
You need to look at language like that and work out what it means for your character.
Why is she saying it? In a well written script, everything has a purpose – albeit different ones.
So, you can’t just say the words, because those words are ‘loaded’ with story and meaning.
To me they’re the words that foreshadow the debate or argument that’s going on, laughingly called ‘serious negotiation’.
3 Consider who the character is talking to.
This is crucial for focus.
Make a simple choice – in this case, make it a girlfriend, it just fits.
4 Then work out what the story is.
Get it down to one sentence.
Something like – a 15 year old girl, tells her girlfriend about an argument she overheard her parents having.
5 The next thing you do is “look for the ad”.
That is, all the words and phrases, that, if they were singled out would tell the story of the script, from an advertising perspective.
Can you see where they are?
It has to be ‘Carpet Choice Catalogue Sale’ – because you need to let the “half listening” radio audience know who you’re talking about.
Next it has to be those words that are in the ‘so what’s it about’ corner.
So it would be ‘new carpet’.
Then in the next line, ‘great catalogue prices’.
In the next paragraph, it’s ‘timber floor, a fantastic buy ‘cos it’s DIY’ (which means ‘do-it-yourself’).
Then it just must be ‘$10,000 Deluxe Home Makeover’
Just read the highlighted text and you’ll see that these are the words that are the ad
What you’ve done now is isolate the reason for the ad, a flooring sale, with the carrot of the competition.
6 Time to move to the next step – read it for time!
Once you have all your ducks in a row, you’ll find it so much easier to, not just create a voice for a read, but to create a thoroughly believable character.
A couple of thoughts on relationship dynamics in character scripts.
Character voice scripts almost always have other characters mentioned that the main character has a relationship with.
The dynamic of that relationship or the attitude the main character has to them and the way he or she talks about them, can be a great source of humour – it’s also what makes it believable.
The story telling needs to be visual as well.
We need to get a solid idea of what these people are like, by the way the character talks about them or refers to them.
When relationship dynamics are clear, we understand the ad, the story and the character.
We understand great visual story telling…and that’s what makes a great character ad.
For me, jumping into someone else’s shoes is always the most fun I can have doing voiceover.
Most of the time, character scripts, don’t actually require you to change your voice that much at all.
Just sort out who you are, where you are, who you’re talking to and what you want them to get about the story you’re telling.
Here are a couple of ads I’ve done that are a good example of this kind of stuff.
The first is for a lolly (candy / sweet) by Cadbury Pascal called a a Clinker. They’re all the same shape but a variety of colours and flavours, all pastel!
The second is for car insurance, Just Car, aimed at the youth market.
Find Your Voice As a Voice Over Actor And Artist With The Voice Over Coach. For over 30 years I've had a successful voiceover career. I work in mainstream voice over for radio and television, narration for the corporate sector, website content and documentaries, as well as characters for animation, IVR, ADR, on-hold and foreign film dubbing.