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

Justify Your Choices!

Webster defines the word justify as "to show or prove to be just right or reasonable." So, what does that have to do with voice-over? Good question!

As voice-actors, we work from a script that is usually written by someone else. The writer has an idea about how to share the message or tell the story contained in those words. And the writer also has in mind how those words should sound. Our job as a voice-actor is to take those words off the page by creating a compelling character that sounds as close to the writer's idea as possible. To be truly effective and believable, the character we create must sound like a real person, and real people have subtlety, detail, emotion, truth, and honesty. The only way for us, as voice-actors, to reveal all the details and subtlety of our character is through the sound of our voice during our performance.

In most cases, the details of our character are NOT provided for us. All we have to work with is the words on that sheet of paper. As we begin to "woodshed" the script, we make a myriad of choices - some conscious, some unconscious - about what we will do with those words once we get in front of the mic. We will quickly discover whether or not our choices are correct. It's easy to justify our choices when there is something tangible in the script that clearly defines our character's attitude, emotion, or motivation. It's more difficult to justify our choices when we must "make up" things in our imagination. If we simply start "reading" the script, chances are very good that we will make bad choices - or worse - no choices at all.

In order to make the best, most correct, and appropriate first choices for our performance, we need to know what the story is about, who our character is, what is happening in the story, who our character is speaking to, how quickly our character speaks, what the conflict is, and many other things. Applying each of these bits of information to our performance requires us to make choices, and to be consistent (ie: staying in character), we must commit to our choices for the duration of our performance. During our woodshedding process, we justified each of our choices based partly on our knowledge of the character and story, and partly on simply what sounds "good" or "right." We came up with choices that we could prove to be "right and reasonable" for our character as we experienced her.

OK, so you've got an idea of how to perform your script. You've got the scene in your imagination, you can see the one-person audience your character is speaking to, and you've got a good handle on the message and story. You deliver your first take, and the producer directs you to change your attitude to something completely different from what you had planned. With this new direction, many of your original choices are no longer valid - gone - out the window! If you continue to use them, your performance won't work. What's needed now, is for you to make new choices that will take your performance closer to the director's vision. And you've got to do it quickly.

As you re-work your performance, you will need to justify each of your new choices. Ask yourself, "What might have happened to cause my character to respond in that way?" Or, "How would my character react if _____ was really happening?" Or, "How would my character really say those words if she felt that way?" Come up with some reason that makes your choices "right and reasonable" for your character in the new situation you've been given. You may need to change who your character is speaking to, or you may need to change the character herself. Most of the time, the quickest way to justify your new choices is to change your backstory - the why behind everything taking place in the script.

When you are first starting out, this process of justifying your choices may take some time. But as with anything, the more you get comfortable doing it, the easier, and faster it becomes. Eventually, you won't even need to think about justifying your choices - you'll just do it instinctively.

It doesn't really matter how you justify your choices. The important thing is that you know, inside, that every choice you make is correct and appropriate for your character. Once you've justified your new choices (and you may need to do this several times during a session), your performance can come from a place of confidence and security. Your character will be more real because there is an inner sense of truth about the story and your character's role in it.

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