Sunday, January 31, 2010

Technique Tip of February: Leave the Punctuation on the Page

When you analyze an audition script for a voice-over job, you probably mark it up like you learned to do in your voice-over technique training classes. Make notes about what words and adjectives the writer employed, look for hidden meaning and clues to who the target audience or speaker are. You might makes notations for where to take a breath, where to come up or down in your volume or energy. Sometimes you think you are on the right track, but then you get thrown off by some funny punctuation that is inconsistent with the way you want to read the rest of the copy. Instead of scrapping your work, keep these notes in mind so that you can keep the punctuation on the page, and not in your voice!
Commas can provide good natural places to pause in the copy to take a breath, pause, use inflection in your voice to denote a list of items, or to set off phrases. Depending on the script, pausing for every comma could be (and sound) laborious! Often the commas are used for grammatical purposes, but if you don't hear the pause when you say it in real life, don't add it to the copy. It will sound forced and unnatural!
Rhetorical questions are questions that look like a question on the page, but they are not meant to be answered. Common rhetorical quips might include, "Why me, God?" or the sarcastic remark, "Who knew?" You're not actually expecting an answer when you say that, so don't end the remark with an inflection in your voice. Similarly, a longer rhetorical question could look like this: "How much longer will we have to put up with this?" The trick with the longer rhetorical questions is that they are more often situation-specific. Use your good judgement on these, and don't be afraid to try it a couple of different ways to see what sounds best.
If every sentence in the copy has an exclamation mark after it, don't assume the writer meant every sentence to be read with the same intensity! Again, this depends on the context! Even a high-energy, hard-sell copy should ebb and flow! Maybe the writer was too excited and didn't know what sentence deserved the most emphasis!
Ellipses is another tricky one ... According to Wikipedia, an ellipses is, "an intentional omission of a word or a phrase from the original text. An ellipsis can also be used to indicate a pause in speech, an unfinished though, or at the end of a sentence, a trailing off into silence..." All though the ellipsis has become pandemic in today's emails or Facebook, inserting the sound of an ellipsis can make you sound listless, depressed, or flaky ... Of course, if that's the sound you are going for, then by all means...
No matter what kind of shape the copy is in when it falls into your hands, use your good voice-over technique training and judgement to know when to follow the written word or not. Record it a few different ways to see which areas don't sound natural to you, then re-work them. And never, ever comment to the client about the writer's poor English skills -- they may have written it themselves!
By: Catherine Marshall

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