One of the most difficult areas of sentence structure that consistently confounds my students is the concept of destinations.
In other words, do you end an event in a sentence, or is there a word or phrase that extends the event to an ending farther into the phrase, clause or sentence?
To clarify, here are a couple of simple examples: “I wonder.” (short destination) “I wonder how I’m going to find the time to finish this project.” (longer destination) The word how takes the sentence through a longer destination. This is also true of who, whom, what, when, where, why, and that, as well as a few other words that perform a similar function. Example: Jane didn’t understand.”(short destination) “Jane didn’t understand what was expected of her.” Now the word what leads to a longer destination.
An infinitive can also extend the destination. Example: “I went home in the afternoon.” (short destination) I went home in the afternoon to help my wife move some furniture.” (long destination) The infinitive to help
extends the destination.
In all extended destination situations, never emphasize the word that immediately precedes the one that extends the destination. It would be emphasized if it were the last word in an event, but since it flows into a longer destination, it is not emphasized.
There are other parts of speech that can extend a destination. These will be discussed further in next month’s Tip of the Month.
Almost all sentences end with a bang; that is, the energy builds to a climax. There may be a high point in the middle, but nearly always, the ending, especially the last word, is the strongest hit in the sentence. That word also happens to be a noun most of the time, although it may be another part of speech as well.
When you read even the shortest sentence, ease into it and keep your vocal energy in reserve to hit on a big ending. The natural tendency for people new to voice over technique is to run out of gas by the time they get to the end of a sentence and almost cavalierly throw it away, when instead the opposite effect should occur. Ease into the sentence in the beginning, increase your energy gradually as your progress through the sentence, and give a strong dramatic push to the ending. Note that the listener always has a tendency to remember best the last word spoken, not the first. This dramatic push should be especially strong at the end of a topic, before a transition, and most of all, at the end of the entire script itself. Aim for a solid finish with follow-through.
Remember that the strongest ending of all is the ending of the last sentence in the script. Give this ending a sense of finality and closure by delivering it with strong focus, intensity, and purpose.
Always be on the lookout
for patterns in the scripts you deliver.
Being aware of
similarities in points of emphasis that
exist in patterns will make your interpretations shine.
Here are some examples of
patterns that will give you some idea of what to look for: (Underlines indicate
1. On the veranda, people will gather, and doors will slam, and dogs will bark, and someone will play music.
2. The foot presses the brake. The hand turns the steering wheel. The car tracks through the corner, as if connected with Velcro.
3. Picasso painted many women in abstraction. The women may have elephant ears, crossed eyes, two noses.
4. During his lifetime, Albert Einstein was witness to the rise of modern Germany, the birth of nuclear weapons, and the growth of Zionism.
5. It’s important to understand who you are, where you’re going, and what you know you can achieve.
6. Please observe all of the safety guidelines we recommend, before you start, while doing the job, and when you are finished.
Get the idea? Always look
for signs of patterns. When you have learned to recognize them, your delivery
will sound more natural, conversational, and believable.
Every verbal communication, every sentence, contains one or several specific words (mostly nouns), each of which calls for emphasis for dramatic effect, unless they are redundant. However, this emphasis will not be the same for each of these words. You must consider the relative emotional weight of these significant words relative to each other within the framework of the message. Listen carefully for this phenomenon when you watch an effectively narrated documentary. Observe this also in spontaneous, highly motivated conversation, where the person speaking is totally immersed in his or her subject.
Your mastery of this phenomenon will be readily apparent to your audience, as well as to prospective producers who will become your future clients.
An important conveyor of mood and emotion is pitch. In my evaluation sessions, many of my students exhibit misconceptions about how pitch works in script delivery. They pitch up where they should pitch down and vice versa, or they change pitch too little or too much.
Let’s address some fundamental concepts about pitch. Pitching way up at the end of a sentence conveys a question: “Is that person standing over there your guest?” Guest goes up and stays up. On the other hand, a rhetorical question ends in a statement: “Well, now, what do you think of that?” or, “What are we going to do about this?” The pitch is raised on the italicized words only slightly to give the sentence the feel of a statement, not a question. As for all other phrases and clauses, they are delivered as pure statements, one after the other, as this is the way most people talk in everyday spontaneous conversation. These statements end with a down inflection, or a low pitch, which gives the endings a sense of finality.
Animation is all about pitch variation. If a script is delivered with a lot of animation, the pitch goes up and down, often to extremes. If it’s delivered with less animation, as in more subtle, nuanced scripts (in particular, most narrations) there is far less pitch variation. Cartoons, children’s stories, commercials aimed at children, and hard-sell car commercials contain a lot of pitch variation, for example. It is very important that you understand these extremes and everything in between them, as your interpretation will depend on this understanding and application.
B, hard c, d, hard g, k, p, and t are plosive consonants; that is, they can push out a lot of air when pronounced. On condenser microphones (which are the microphones of choice for voice over work), a puff of air from a plosive consonant may produce a bassy “pop” in the middle of the delivery, which can be an annoying distraction.
To avoid this problem as much as possible, we use a windscreen, which may be a porous foam sleeve over the microphone, or a double windscreen inserted between the performer and the microphone. These serve to divert the puff of air from a direct line to the microphone and soften the plosive.
You can learn to deliver plosive consonants directly to the microphone without popping by practicing your delivery four or five inches in front of a burning candle. It may take many hours of practice, and you may have to relight the candle countless times, but over time you will adjust and learn to deliver plosives without blowing out the candle. Then, when you work close to a microphone, you will be able to avoid popping entirely.
Most breath-control problems stem from a lack of understanding of phrasing and from overlooking breathing pauses. Others are caused by simply delivering at too high a volume level, not taking in enough breath at every opportunity, and not staying relaxed. Anxiety is the mortal enemy of breath control.
Let’s talk about pauses first. Pauses give us obvious openings to breathe, and if the pause is a long one, a chance to grab a big breath. Most long sentences can be broken up into several shorter phrases or clauses that can stand alone, and can therefore offer many breathing opportunities.
Now a word about loud delivery. Many stage actors (as mentioned in a previous chapter) as well as amateurs who are new to voiceovers, often project the message as they would on stage. This is a surefire way to run out of breath. Delivering at a comfortable, relaxed, conversational level will conserve your breath in a way that may surprise you.
Keep your breathing relaxed and try not to overdo the intake. Don’t rush it, either. I have heard many broadcasters (mostly from reading too fast) take short, quick gasps for breath that are frequently quite audible. The use of electronic compression often exacerbates this phenomenon. Easy does it. Try to pitch the breath as low as you can by making the opening in the back of your throat as wide as comfortably.
One way you can build up your breathing stamina is to take a script – any script – and read it in an easy, relaxed, albeit expressive manner, while eliminating all of the pauses. The ideas to take a comfortable breath in the beginning and go as far into the script as you can. Try using the same script for a few days for this exercise. Each time you read it aloud, mark how far into the script you ran out of breath. The next time you do it, try to go a word or two or three further. Over time, you will be amazed at how far you can go without a breath. When I first started this myself, I could only do two to two and a half lines. After working on it for several months, I was able to do fourteen to sixteen lines. Many of my students have achieved similar results.