If your voice over artist is taking twice the estimated recording session time and struggles through delivering the lines, it might be partly because of the voice over script and the way it is written. To achieve effective scriptwriting, whether for voice over recording or for speeches, there are a few rules to follow. Adhering to these scriptwriting rules will improve the quality of your script, its deliverability, its attraction and can even save you a bundle in optimizing voice over recording and editing time.
So, without further ado, here are the XX cardinal rules for effective voice over scriptwriting.
- Write the way you speakKeep in mind that your audience will not be reading your script but listen to it. Though it will be recorded by a voice over artist, it is the scriptwriter that gives the audio its personality and dictates its tone. A nice trick to find the right tone when scriptwriting is to picture yourself talking to your target audience in a setting similar to the script setting and write the way you would speak in the situation.
- Keep your sentences shortWhen reading your voice over script, the VO artist will have to breathe. Typically, breathing in mid-sentence breaks the flow and long sentences need to be few and far between, or, even better, altogether absent.
Just try and read the last sentence above out loud. Can you feel the difficulty on inserting proper breathing spaces? Now try the last two sentences. Much easier…
When narrating your script, the voice over artist will thank you for thinking about his breathing so he doesn’t have to and can focus on optimal delivery and intonation.
Tips to achieve that:
- Keep one thought per sentence
- Use shorter words
- Write contracted forms – i.e. “you’re” instead of “you are”, “doesn’t” instead of “does not” etc.
- Cut out any verbosity
- Break sentences in two or even three wherever possible
- Use transition words accuratelyTransitions words such as “yet”, “but”, “however,” “therefore,” or “meanwhile” are cardinal to ensure optimal understanding. As your audience is not in a position to read back, using these transition words accurately ensures they are able to follow the flow of your thoughts without efforts.
- Optimize the use of silenceSilences are the equivalent of “white space” in writing.
A written text is structured with titles, subtitles, paragraphs, bullet points and a number of visual cues. This enables the reader to adapt his reading pattern to the writer’s intended flow of information. It indicates where to let the mind rest between two separate blocks of thoughts.
When words are spoken, silences also indicate where the mind can rest. Professional VO artists are well trained in translation punctuation into brief silences. Yet, adding an occasional ellipsis (…) to emphasize the need for a slightly longer silence does wonder to optimize the VO artist delivery.
- Indicate pausesPauses are not the same as silences. When writing a voice over script, pauses should be indicated clearly in all letters between brackets i.e.[pause].
Pauses have a number of functions. They help the audience understand you, they convey emotions, they control the overall pace of the delivery, they help to engage the audience, they advantageously replace filler words.
Clearly indicating to the voice over narrator where and when to pause is invaluable in ensuring that the voice over rendition will be as close as possible to what was intended when composing the voice over script.
Here is a handy guide of the different kind of pauses and how to use them
- Include specific instruction about proper pronunciationIn addition to the voice over script, include a separate file with instructions about how to pronounce
- places or people’s names – ideally, for uncommon names of places, people, monument or unfamiliar terms – Ideally, these should be sent in a separate audio file with the preferred pronunciation
- acronyms –for example, MRIf is usually pronounced functional M R I but is a field specific expression likely to be unfamiliar to a voice over artist.
- numbers: 370 should it be pronounced as three hundred and seventy, three-seventy, three-seven-zero, three-seven-O
- Dates: 1850 should it be pronounced eighteen fifty, or one thousand eight hundred and fifty
- Time: 2.30 should it be pronounced two thirty or half past two
- Read the voice over script out loudThis has many advantages. It will enable you to:
- Get a better idea of what your writing sounds like
- Identify tongue twisters
- Get a feel for the optimal pauses placement
- Spot sentences that need to be cut in two
- Spot misspelled words missed by the spell-check
- Spot word that can lead to confusion when spoken (i.e. “can’t”, sounds like “can” which might lead to misunderstanding)
- Evaluate if the text is boring and adapt accordingly
Keep editing and reading out loud until you are satisfied with the result and then time the last read, pacing yourself
Once the final version is ready, make sure you format it properly.
- Print black on white – higher contrast between paper and font maximizes the ease of reading
- Print double space – this makes the text more readable and leaves room for annotations
- Prefer with a common font constantly throughout the script – as a rule, serif fonts are deemed best for voice over script
- Using both upper and lower cases (i.e., not in all caps and with proper capitalization)
- Stay clear of justified text – justified text extend the space between words which complicates the reading flow for the voice over artist
- Keep the lines of moderate length (about 65 characters maximum is common. Long lines are more difficult to read for the voice artist)
- Avoid awkward line breaks
- Keep margins equal on both sides
- Add “continued” at the end of each but the final page of the script
Now, just send both a .word and PDF version of your script to the voice over talent or the agency. The PDF version will ensure that they receive your script exactly in the format you intended, and the .word version will give them the possibility to adapt the text to fit tools they might be working with, or add annotations.