Developing character voices

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Annoying Twit
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Post by Annoying Twit » July 15th, 2008, 2:51 pm

How do you go about developing character voices? The obvious answer is "practice", but is there any way of making practice more efficient?

kristin
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Post by kristin » July 15th, 2008, 3:26 pm

Yes, practice is a big part of it.

It helps to have a feel for the characters before you start. There's nothing worse than making up the voices as you go and finding out halfway through that you misjudged a character and gave them the wrong sort of sound. Once you know the characters it makes hearing them in your head and recreating that sound consistently much easier.

Next is the more technical aspect. There are different ways of going about differentiating characters, including changes in pitch, tempo, accent and speech patterns. Depending on the reader and their preferences they may only use one or two of these but I think a balance between all is best if you can achieve it. How much you can do does depend on how flexible your voice is.

I like to get a list of characteristics for each character something like:
Mr. X - stern, a bit droning, lower pitch
Mr. Y - excitable, clipped speech, everything is a source of wonder
Mr. Z - slight drawl, medium tempo, unflappable

No, I don't write them out like this but it's what is in my head when I think about the character. I also find when I'm reading different characters my facial expressions change quite dramatically which changes the possition of your muscles and the sound of your voice. You can hear if someone is smiling when they read, so if the character is smiling and you want to sound like you're smiling, you'd better be smiling or very, very talented.

Once you have a clear idea of what you want it doesn't take much practice as you will naturally associate the voice (and expression) with the character. (Or at least that's how it works for me.)
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Post by gypsygirl » July 15th, 2008, 3:51 pm

When putting it into practice, it also helps me, for continuity, to have a short file with just a snippet of each voice (when I'm editing and have come across a new character, I copy a few of their lines over to the file, along with mention of their name), so when I come across a character again after several chapters, I can quickly refer to the snippet to remind yourself how I'd made them sound originally. I came up with this idea after a book where I kept having to try to find the places in previous chapters where particular characters had appeared to remember what, exactly, they'd sounded like.
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Post by Shurtagal » July 15th, 2008, 5:32 pm

And this is why I stay away from Multiple voice solos. When I have to I just take stereotypical accents from various parts of the country (world.) and yeah, I think that practice is key.
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Post by sjmarky » July 15th, 2008, 7:39 pm

Here's mine (adapted from a character voice class taken with Terry McGovern, professional cartoon voice actor):

1. Be specific. Make specific decisions about what characteristics the voice should have, and why. There's nothing worse than a generalized, stereotypical voice. Choices can include pace, vocal range, placement in the mouth, slurred/crisp, amount of air, and a million other options.
2. Don't do anything that causes strain. Audiobook voices need to be sustained over many pages; hoarseness or inability to sustain voice will ruin it.
3. Use voices in your natural vocal range. Pitching your voice higher or lower than you can handle will sound fake.
4. Make strong choices. It's easier to back off a voice than trying to punch it. Don't be afraid of going over the top.
5. Develop six good voices and then stick with them. If you have six you can use whenever you want you'll have almost any text covered. New voices can then be created easily by basing them on voices you're already good at. Pro voice actors do this.
6. Practice - with feedback. Listen to your recorded voices so you know how they really sound, not just how you think they sound.
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kristin
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Post by kristin » July 15th, 2008, 8:44 pm

sjmarky wrote: 2. Don't do anything that causes strain. Audiobook voices need to be sustained over many pages; hoarseness or inability to sustain voice will ruin it.
Yes, that made me think of another thing that is a bit off your question but I'll mention it anyway. When reading a book written in first person whoever is the main character and is doing the narration get the voice that is most like my own. Otherwise it is very hard to maintain.
[size=75]Whereas story is processed in the mind in a straightforward manner, poetry bypasses rational thought and goes straight to the limbic system and lights it up like a brushfire. It's the crack cocaine of the literary world. - Jasper Fforde[/size]

knotyouraveragejo
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Post by knotyouraveragejo » July 15th, 2008, 8:52 pm

This has been posted by someone else before, but here is a link with a good discussion on this topic that you might find worth reading:

http://www.maryrobinettekowal.com/category/reading-aloud/
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Post by ceastman » July 15th, 2008, 8:55 pm

sjmarky wrote:2. Don't do anything that causes strain. Audiobook voices need to be sustained over many pages; hoarseness or inability to sustain voice will ruin it.
Of course, this is completely unhelpful when you haven't figured out at the beginning that a character's voice is going to end up being a strain on your own vocal cords...
sjmarky wrote:5. Develop six good voices and then stick with them. If you have six you can use whenever you want you'll have almost any text covered. New voices can then be created easily by basing them on voices you're already good at. Pro voice actors do this.
Yeah, that sounds like about the number that I've got, if you count my own. There's me, there's little old person, there's eager beaver, there's hella lotta air, there's a couple of different sexy/sultry. Then there's cigar-smoking male executive voice, who I will NEVER use again after my current solo.

Ditto Kristin, in that the main character's voice will (almost always) be my own. Ditto Karen, in that (in a piece with a lot of characters) I'll keep a file where every track is a short snippet of a different character's voice.

And yeah. Practice. And have fun!

-Catharine

Annoying Twit
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Post by Annoying Twit » July 15th, 2008, 11:35 pm

Thanks for this advice. I'll be putting these pointers into action. I laughed about the points made about remembering the voice for the character. When reading for my son, I've often forgotten voices for characters and had to stop and think, "what was this character supposed to sound like?"

I found this as well, which is only partially relevant,, but still useful. I'll post it here in case anyone with the same question reads this thread.

http://www.awn.com/mag/issue2.1/articles/bevilacqua2.1.html

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Post by Great Plains » July 16th, 2008, 6:49 am

This is a really cool thread. I have no background in acting or theater, etc, but I still give it a try when reading. (What's the point of having a hobby if you don't go full-tilt boogie at it, huh?) I find it's much harder than it seems. And unfortunately, all the books I can find about the subject are usually more focused on the business side of acting.

This would be a cool regular feature for the podcast. A 2 or 3 minute segment where a LibriVox denizen more experienced in the art of acting gives a tip about character voices, accents, how to read dialog without sounding totally stilted, etc.


8)
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Annoying Twit
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Post by Annoying Twit » July 16th, 2008, 8:33 am

Great Plains wrote: This would be a cool regular feature for the podcast. A 2 or 3 minute segment where a LibriVox denizen more experienced in the art of acting gives a tip about character voices, accents, how to read dialog without sounding totally stilted, etc.
Yes, I agree wholeheartedly. Particularly if the podcast included some exercises that we could try ourselves.

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Post by sjmarky » July 17th, 2008, 3:44 pm

Great Plains wrote: This would be a cool regular feature for the podcast. A 2 or 3 minute segment where a LibriVox denizen more experienced in the art of acting gives a tip about character voices, accents, how to read dialog without sounding totally stilted, etc.

8)
I'd be willing to chip in.
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Post by PaulW » July 17th, 2008, 4:19 pm

sjmarky wrote:
Great Plains wrote: This would be a cool regular feature for the podcast. A 2 or 3 minute segment where a LibriVox denizen more experienced in the art of acting gives a tip about character voices, accents, how to read dialog without sounding totally stilted, etc.

8)
I'd be willing to chip in.
And one of the perfect readers to do so, too. Just go take a listen to the voices in Mark's rendition of Tom Swift and the Visitor from Planet X...wonderful!
Paul
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Post by Cloud Mountain » July 17th, 2008, 9:40 pm

I do much like Kristin does in her head but on paper.

I use different colors to mark my script for each person. And also keep the set character voices in mind. What helps me to do that is to assume a particular body position or shape each time I do the particular character.

Marking the script in different highlighter colors of each character, I record a different track for each one, going through ALL of the script of a story one character at a time, to maintain uniformity. If I don't do that things get muddied up. I edit the voice on its own track. Each character being on its own separate track makes it very simple to edit. Also, being on a separate track I can apply different effects to each separate voice, changing tone or pitch or gain, compression, EQing... whatever. The important thing to remember when using this technique is to select ALL tracks when doing an insert, to be certain all exchanges remain in sync.

Have fun developing your own style!
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Post by Great Plains » July 17th, 2008, 9:43 pm

sjmarky wrote:
Great Plains wrote: This would be a cool regular feature for the podcast. A 2 or 3 minute segment where a LibriVox denizen more experienced in the art of acting gives a tip about character voices, accents, how to read dialog without sounding totally stilted, etc.

8)
I'd be willing to chip in.
Right on! Let's make a date to do a Skype chat interview sometime this weekend? Let me know 8)
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