Voice-acting tips from
"The Art of Voice-Acting Workshop"


Those of you who were at the Thursday Copy Workout a few weeks ago had a firsthand experience of the importance of back story when it comes to performing for voiceover. For those of you who weren't there, I'll cover some of the major points of "back story" here.

Back story can be defined as the events or history that has led to this moment in time, or the moment in time during which the story in a script is taking place. There are two basic forms of back story:

  • 1) your personal back story and
  • 2) the character's back story.

And each of these has two basic elements:

  • 1) Long-term back story - the history of events that have brought you (or the character) this this moment in time, and
  • 2) Immediate back story - the specific event that occurs immediately before the first words out of your mouth (or the first word in a script). Of the two, the immediate back story is the most important for a voice actor. But you may want to define a long-term back story for your character as well to provide more substance.

When performing a voiceover script, you will find it much easier to allow the character in the script to come to life. Your character's back story is critical because:

    it tells you exactly who you are talking to
    it gives you the essential information about the character's past that you need to effectively portray your character
    it provides a reason, or motivation, for the story that is taking place
    it establishes the emotion and feelings your character is experiencing
    it always answers the question "Why?", which is ultimately the reason your character is speaking

Sometimes a script will clearly define the back story while other times, you may have to make it up. If the back story is described in the script - take advantage of it! If you need to make up a back story, be as detailed as you can be. The more real the back story is the more real your character will be and the easier it will be for you to get off the page with your performance.

Here are a few tools you can use to make your back story more real:

  1. Use visualization to create a vivid mental image of the scene for the immediate back story
  2. Use sense memory techniques to recall an experience from your own life that is similar to the emotion or feeling your character is expressing in the script.
  3. Observe the physical sensations that come up when you recall a past experience. Hold onto that physical tension and speak from that place in your body as you MOVE during your performance.
  4. Remember that Movement Orchestrates Vocal Expression
  5. Use a lead-in line to verbalize the back story and to bring you up to full speed for the first word of the copy

The more effectively you can create a back story for your character, the more real your character will be in your imagination. The goal of voice acting is to allow the real you to step aside and allow the character in the copy to speak through you, expressing the mood, emotion and feelings that are in the script.

Shirley MacClaine was once asked to describe her thoughts on acting. Her response was: "It's all about listening and forgetting who you are". Remember, its not you saying the words on the script - its the character in the copy who is really saying those words. Learn to “forget who you are” and let yourself step aside so the character can become real.

Listen to how your character is speaking and make adjustments as needed, but be careful not to impose your personal attitudes on the character. You need to develop your performing skills to a point where this becomes automatic and you don't have to think about it. When you reach that point, you will be able to bring any back story - and character - to life.

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