Tips for voice over script writers

How to write and format a VO script

Over the years we have seen voice over scripts of every kind.

Some with text centred, others
where the entire
script is written in
CAPITAL LETTERS MAKING
IT QUITE HARD TO READ.

Some scripts have been intermingled with instructions to the video [shot of bottle] editor.

While others have arrived without any timings, meaning we don’t know the duration of the VO – is it a fast-paced 2 minutes or a leisurely, thoughtful, 3 minutes.

We’ve been presented with some real tongue-twisters too, because no one had read aloud the script before sending it in.

A smooth recording session starts with a well-written script. Conversely, a poorly written or badly formatted script causes problems – problems that adversely affect the project’s budget, create longer session times, increase tension in the delivery, and produces an outcome that just sounds less professional.

The aim of this quick guide is to save you time and money, so Steve can deliver the first take as close to your requirements as possible.

Presentation

Keep the layout of your script simple. Upper and lower case text, set left with special instructions presented in [square brackets]. Instructions could be timings or how the text should be delivered [soothing, humorous, business-like].

Read the copy out loud. That’s the best way to spot spelling mistakes, missed words, extra extra words, and tongue-twisters.

When you read the copy aloud you might be surprised at how many difficult phrases there are in ordinary copy.

Reading your script aloud will also help you…

  • Identify sentences that are too long to say in one breath
  • Identify sentences that are too convoluted to follow
  • Catch rhetoric that might be confusing
  • Keep to one thought per sentence
  • Discover redundancies, cliches and jargon
  • Realize if the draft is boring, or note where listener interest might lag

Write like you speak. In general, we speak much more informally than you write. Write for the words to be spoken, not read in the mind.

You may find that it helps to imagine you’re talking to someone when writing your script.

You will naturally use smaller words, a more conversational tone, and shorter sentences. (And notice how we wrote “you’re” instead of “you are”?)

Short and sweet

Aim for short sentences that vary in length. This is closer to how we speak. To keep sentences on the shorter side:

1) keep to one thought per sentence;

2) delete any surplus verbiage; and

3) break sentences into two whenever possible.

Duration

How long do you want the VO to run for? You may have a total time, such as 30sec for a commercial, or each paragraph may be timed against a scene in a video.

Delivery: How do you want your script delivered, Excitable, Thoughtful, Hard sell, Soft, business-like…

Make it flow

Remember that, unlike readers, listeners can’t go back and re-examine what has just been said. So it’s important the listener can keep up with the train of thought. In complex items, some scripts tell people what is about to be said, then they say it, then they tell people what they just said.

Use sentence transition words (such as “Yet,” “But,” “However,” “Therefore,” and “Meanwhile”) to let listeners know that a change from the previous thought is coming.

Bottom line. Write your scrip in a fluent conversational tone. Read it aloud and see if you get tripped up or become out of breath.