8 Voice Over Diction Guidelines For Voice Actors
Jul 17 2012
Diction is always important, whether the script calls for a formal delivery, informal, or something in-between. Here are some general “diction guidelines” that almost always apply.
1. “The” and “a”.
Pronounce “the” with a soft “e.” Pronounce “a” with a soft “a”. This is how we generally say these words in everyday conversation. Unfortunately, when reading scripts, we tend to over-enunciate and, inappropriately, use hard vowels, for a variety of reasons having to do with psychology or training. Ironically, this over-enunciation is the one of the biggest indicators that we are reading.
2. Complicated words.
When first looking at a script, it is often difficult to anticipate which words you might be likely to slur. Look again, for multi-syllable words and other potential pitfalls. Remember that your voice over is often mixed with music and/or sound effects, making it more difficult to distinguish slurred words. Also remember that listeners are rarely hanging on your every word, and are easily distracted.
So ensure that your delivery is clear enough for the most casual listener to understand.
To pronounce a challenging word, break it into separate syllables and concentrate on each one, pronouncing each of them individually. For example, if “particularly” is particularly difficult to pronounce, pronounce it with a space between each syllable, like this:
Then, connect the syllables, while still concentrating on each one individually:
3. Complicated “tongue twister” phrases.
Tongue twisters are phrases in which similar sounds are connected. They often occur because the scriptwriter focuses more on the content than on the fact that someone will have to read it.
Of course, each word of a tongue twister can be articulated clearly and easily on its own. The challenge is connecting the words clearly.
To read a tongue twister clearly, first break it into separate words and pronounce each one individually. For example, if the following sentence is difficult to read, pronounce each word with a space between it, like this:
Then, connect the words while still concentrating on each word individually:
It’s the One-Day Super Sale at Sears, starting this Saturday at 7am!
Tongue twisters are great to use for practice. Here are some useful ones:
- Which wristwatches are Swiss wristwatches?
- Sally sells seashells by the seashore.
Do not over-articulate, or your delivery will sound contrived and unnatural. While it’s important to pronounce every sound very clearly, it is even more important that the delivery sounds natural.
Following are words that are often over-articulated:
- effective (The first “e” should be soft, not hard.)
- often (The “t” should not be pronounced.)
- vegetable (The “et” should not be pronounced.)
5. Adjust formality.
Determine how formal or informal the pronunciation should be on a given script, and adjust accordingly. Use your discretion. For example, sometimes the letter “t” should be pronounced, and sometimes it should not.
Once you’ve made your choice, if the word or sound is repeated, be consistent (pronounce it the same way each time).
6. Use the dictionary.
Many words have several pronunciations that are each “correct.” When deciding which pronunciation to use, the safest choice is to use the first pronunciation that the dictionary lists. But options sometimes vary from one dictionary to another, and the pronunciation used by many people in casual conversation is not always the first.
Also sometimes different pronunciations of a word are equally acceptable.
In these cases, the producer has final say of which version will be used. Sometimes, the producer may ask to hear both versions to help them choose. The producer might even ask for an incorrect pronunciation. (If you know it’s incorrect, you might politely double-check with the producer, but it’s still the producer’s decision to make.)
Once decided, it is necessary to remain consistent throughout the entire script.
Here are some common preferences:
- interesting: pronounce “in-trest-ing”, not “in-ter-est-ing”
- comfortable: pronounce “comfter-ble”, not “com-fort-able”
- February: pronounce “feb-u-ary”, not “feb-ru-ary”
* TIP * Most website dictionaries include an audible pronunciation guide.
Generally, the use of contractions is generally preferred in informal scripts
You know when it is hot…I grab a cold 7UP.
…should be read like this:
Ya’ know when it’s hot, I grab a cold 7UP.
8. Lazy mouth.
Lazy mouth is when undesired sounds are enunciated before “hard” consonants.
For example, the “mmm” sound is often vocalized before the word “bye”. (If you haven’t noticed people saying “mmm-bye”, listen for it…you’ll come across it soon.)
While lazy mouth is very common, it is usually frowned upon by producers. Therefore, if you have this habit, learn how to rid yourself of it.
There are 3 common occurrences of lazy mouth:
“m” sounds before words beginning with “b”:
- say: Brought to you by Aetna.
- instead of: mmm-Brought to you by Aetna.
“n” sounds before words beginning with “j”
- say: JC Penney introduces their one-day sale.
- instead of: nnn-JC Penny introduces their one-day sale.
“n” sounds before words beginning with “d”
- say: Duracell batteries are the most trusted battery.
- instead of: nnn-Duracell batteries are the most trusted battery.
To fix this, read one of the above exercises while exaggerating lazy mouth (yes, exaggerating for now — read the example very incorrectly). While articulating the lazy mouth sound, notice the position of your tongue and mouth. Then read the same example again with a less lazy mouth. Then read again with no lazy mouth. Now you should have the ability to notice when lazy mouth appears in your narration, and the skill to correct it.
Want help honing this skill? Call us at 888-321-Edge or email firstname.lastname@example.org.