I have just finished recording the last chapter of my latest audiobook and am saying farewell to the characters of George, Amy, Penelope, The Duke, Uncle Henry and countless others..
My husband is employed as my proof listener and so, as well as noting any mistakes I may have made with the script, he gives me feedback on how well the story is flowing and how realistic the characters sound. Yes, obviously as a woman I have a female voice and don’t really sound like a man but in storytelling I just need to give the listener the illusion that my voice is Lord Hawthornes or Percy the butler’s in order to keep their attention on the ‘what happens next?’and not to jolt them out of the make believe world.
I also have to invent character voices for animation and gaming characters.
And so how do I do this?
Whether the voice is for an audiobook or an animation script I always read the text all through and make notes of all the characters I need to voice as I go. I note down everything I can find out about them – gender, age, place of birth, occupation, build, etc as well as their relationship to other characters and any physicality that may give me a better image in my mind as to how they might sound. Is this character honest or rotten? Pleasant or putrid? Smart or dim-witted? Conniving or clueless? Nerdy and awkward, or pompous and egotistical? And has the author given any indication as to how they imagine the voice over to sound?
- I also note how often they appear and the emotions that they go through which I obviously have to vocalise realistically. It’s fun to come up with a strange and unusual voice but if I can’t keep it up for long or convey emotions with it then it won’t work for a main character. Sometimes I think of a real life person such as an actor, politician etc that they may resemble and maybe have a listen to them being interviewed or performing.
- With an audiobook once I have finished my written preparation of the book I tend to start the recording until I reach the first character. Other narrators make voice recordings of all the characters before they start the actual book but I usually like to get a feel for the script first unless the book starts with character dialogue.
- When I meet a character I refer to my notes to remind myself about them and then record some of their dialogue on a separate file. If the character is male I don’t necessarily lower the pitch of my voice as you might imagine a female has to do, but I try to get the tone and intonation of the character first. For example if a character is of a nervous disposition I may give him a higher pitch than the female protagonist and as a general rule younger characters have higher pitched voices than older.
- I also alter my physical position while coming up with a voice. If the character is an imposing giant of a man I stand taller at the mic and broaden out my shoulder and actually visualise the man. Doing a physical impression of someone helps to create the voice and I do a lot of acting at the mic while recording ( being careful not to hit the mic or the stand of course!)
- Little things like keeping my front teeth together while talking alters my natural voice or one of my favourites for voicing children’s characters is to pucker my lips and let my tongue go a bit looser.
- I also think of voices that my family and friends do when talking to their pets or the daft voice they do for their children.
- When it comes to accents I am realistic in knowing which ones I can do well and which don’t sound authentic enough to pass muster. If, for example, there is a small Norwegian character I could probably manage to listen to a Norwegian pronunciation video to get the general idea over but I wouldn’t attempt to portray the main protagonist in this accent. That said, I recently voiced a male Scot for an audiobook as well as his whole family and I was pleasantly surprised how quickly I became used to voicing the accent so I perhaps I shouldn’t be so quick to discount voicing the next Harold The Viking!
If you are an author looking for your next narrator and feel my voice may suit your project then please get in touch. And let me bring character to your words.