More than likely, at some point in your voiceover career, you encountered audition specs that asked for a "storyteller". Or perhaps, at some point, you were live-directed to be more "storytelling" in your read. Truth be told, to be a great (voice)actor, you need to be a great storyteller. It doesn't matter if your copy is commercial, or corporate, or medical narration, there is always a story in every script. It just may not be obvious, or even written with words. But it absolutely exists. And by the way, how you actually sound shouldn't be a factor in all of this. Meaning - don’t listen to yourself talk; and don’t be so concerned with your inflections happening when you think they are supposed to happen. Spend time to find the story FIRST.
So what makes a story? How do you define it? In today’s blog, we’re going to break down the five key elements of a story that you can use for every script.
Every story starts with the protagonist. The first question to ask yourself is, “who are the characters in the story?” When I am trying to tell the story in a conversational way, I like to consider myself one of the characters. You also need to establish who you are talking to (another main character in the story). Understanding who you are talking to is really important. If you can imagine yourself talking to one person when you’re reading a script, your read will be more personal, more powerful, and more meaningful. The trick is to get as specific as possible. If you have a medical script, don’t just think about talking to a doctor, think about talking to a young doctor who is an asthma specialist that treats pediatric children - someone who needs the information (story) because it will help them do their job better and ultimately save lives. Be as specific as possible when defining your “who.”
It's important to be able to set the scene and imagine yourself actively engaging with your young doctor. Are you in a hospital at the reception desk? In the doctor's office? In a hospital hallway in between surgeries? Are you walking as you talk? Seated? Standing? It's important to stay in the scene at all times during your read and keep engaging the young doctor in between sentences. Keep checking in. Is he listening? Is he interested? Is he asking questions? If so, your answers are always written in the script, either in words or in subtext.
Too often, as voice actors, we do all the work setting up the scene, only to forget about young Dr. Bob once we start reading the copy. We happily cruise on autopilot, speaking a soliloquy to no one in particular, except maybe our own selves, intently listening to our pretty voices. But what about Dr. Bob? If you were on a stage, you couldn't just run off and forget about him, right? Make sure to always stay present in your scene, and you will be able to tell your story authentically.
The next question to answer is if there is something that the main character wants or needs, or if there is a problem to be solved. What is it they’re looking for? What do they need to complete their task? Again, it’s important to be specific. If our doctor wants to save lives or heal the sick, that’s all well and good but it’s not really specific. If you can create a specific need or want, it helps to drive your delivery of the continent. Let’s go back to our doctor again. If our script is a medical explainer regarding a new kind of inhaler, then what things are getting in the way of him finding an inhaler with the features he needs? Each feature within your script can be a solution to an obstacle for our main character. Imagine your doctor getting complaints from patients that it was difficult to carry their inhaler because it was bulky in their pockets. The script includes this inhaler’s benefits including how it is four times smaller than an average inhaler and can easily fit in a pocket - problems that are now solved by the product that you are telling him the story about. This gives your delivery motivation and purpose to help solve the doctor's problem.
Ok, so by now we know who we are, who we're talking to, what they need, and what problems they're trying to overcome. We also know the solution. Now, we need to provide action and information that supports and reinforces our solution (storyline). Supporting arguments that prove our case, and, in effect, sell our product. But without sounding like a salesman! Selling with storytelling is much more effective as it creates memorable and relatable pieces of information that our brains retain. Now that we have action points, what is our main character going to do with the information they now have, or in our case what is the call to action? What is it that we want our main character to do? In every script, there will be some form of a call to action. It may be very clear and well written out as a request, or you might have to infer what we want our doctor to do. This answers the question of what our main character should do with the information they now have. Going back to our doctor, now that they know that they have an option to prescribe a smaller, more convenient, and more effective inhaler, they can solve their patient’s problem. Always look for the call to action in the script.
The last element of our story is the ending. How does it end? What is the resolution? This is where we get to use our imaginations as actors. We get to imagine our doctor prescribing this new inhaler for his patients. We get to imagine those patients happy with a more convenient product. Even though there may not be a specific ending or resolution written in our scripts, it’s important to follow all the way through by imagining how it ends. This will help inform your attitude, your emotion, and your delivery. Imagining an ending helps give resolution to your delivery, and can be a powerful technique to use in your script analysis.
To help you find the story in any script, remember these five elements. If you can identify them, focusing on, and telling the story will be a breeze in any script. And when you know the story you need to tell, the more likely you will give a more effective delivery. Now go and be storytellers and book that gig, my bosses!
Much love and Keep on rockin' your voice and your biz!
About the Author: Anne Ganguzza is a full-time voice talent and award-winning director and producer who works with students to develop their voice over and business skills - including VO demo training and production. She specializes in Conversational Commercial and Narration styles, including Corporate, E-Learning, Technology, Healthcare - Medical, Telephony, and On-Hold. Located in Orange County, CA, Anne offers private coaching and mentoring services to students in person and via Skype, ipDTL or Zoom.