Tips on Crafting a VO Script
Scripts don't just apply to things like screenplays, but are anything that is intended to be performed—including voiceover narration. Writing for voiceovers can be challenging, as they can often differ from writing an essay or ad copy. So whether you're just getting started on writing your script, or are on the final edits, here are some things to keep in mind in order to ensure great results.
We've talked about tone a lot on this blog, and there's a reason for that. It's one of the most important things to consider when working on your script. So, start there. What sort of tone do you want to strike? Is this something serious that is addressing the loved ones of those who are ill? Is it something targeting children, that wants to match their energy and excitement? Is it about a great new product that people will love, and you want it to sound like a friend is telling them about it? Ask yourself who the target audience is and what the subject matter is. Then imagine who would be relaying the subject matter to the audience. That will give you some idea as to how you want the tone to be set.
So now that you know “who” you want talking to your audience, and how you want them to deliver the message, you need to craft the script accordingly. Rosko has a post that nicely illustrates ways to ensure your script has a more conversational read, for those who are shooting for that. Try reading the lines out loud to yourself after you've written them, to see if they really flow like how a person talks. This is applicable no matter what sort of tone you want, as even in professional settings we still have certain ways of speaking compared to casual conversations. Any time you encounter a line that's a little clunky or just sounds awkward for a person to actually say, change it. Again, talking out loud, try a few alternative phrases, until you find something that actually sounds natural.
The “age” of the speaker is also incredibly important when determining how they speak. If the speaker is meant to be a child around the age of eight, they won't phrase things like an adult. Don't put big words in the mouths of little kids who probably won't even know what they mean (regardless if the actor playing the child is in their thirties). Cut back on overly proper speech patterns for kids and teens, especially if they are meant to be speaking to someone their own age. On the flip side, try not to have narrators of more adult, serious scripts talk down to their audience of fellow adults. Even if it's a training video, don't view it as someone superior teaching someone inferior, but as one peer explaining something to another.
Make sure your speaker won't run out of breath when delivering a line. While you're reading what you've written aloud, try to only take a breath whenever you see punctuation. When people are talking, they don't usually run on continuously without pausing somewhere to take a breath now and again (unless they are really excited about something). So if you find a sentence that is difficult for you to get through because there's no comfortable place to pause for breath, reexamine it. Again, see if there's a better way to phrase it that sounds more natural. Maybe you could just break it up into two or more sentences. Or, maybe you just missed putting a comma somewhere.
Which brings us to the next point: proof reading. For some people, the mechanics of writing isn't really their strong suit, and that's fine! If grammar trips you up, maybe have someone else give it a look over to ensure it's all good. This can be someone else on the team or in the office who excels in that area, or even a professional editor. Don't have them completely change around your sentences, though, until you've reviewed their input. After all, you just spent all that time making sure the script flowed nicely and actually sounded like something a person would say. When people are speaking, they don't always use the most proper grammar, and that might be reflected in the flow of your writing. An editor might try to “fix” these perceived mistakes, and turn the conversational tone into something stiff and awkward again. Discuss with them what it is you need them to keep an eye out for while editing, too, in order to help reduce that. Let them know you mostly need to make sure words and punctuation aren't wrong, and not to touch sentence structure and phrasing without checking with you first.
And since FlyVoiceovers has talent and clients spanning the globe, we would be remiss not to mention the importance of terminology and phrasing depending on location. While considering who your audience is, consider where they are, and how that affects the way they say things. Americans go on vacation while the British go on holiday, for example. If you're not from the country your target audience is in, and you're not fully confident you got all the wording right, that can be another aspect to consider when picking an editor. Or, if you hire talent from the target audience's country, you could always mention you're open for them to make minor tweaks during the read, if they find something doesn't jive with their nationality's speech patterns. The best practice, though, is to have everything ready for them ahead of time.