Writing a Voice-over Narrative

Many years ago, I wrote a CD for IBM called Experience C++ – A Multimedia Tutorial. The CD was a beginner course on C++ and object-oriented programming. It used voice-overs with visuals. I was assigned an editor who had worked for BBC radio. I wrote my first script and proudly presented my work to her. “This will not work at all,” she explained. When I asked why, she replied “Go record it, and then you tell me.”

I went into the lab, read the script, then listened. It sounded like a PhD dissertation, complicated and boring. What I learned was that writing for print and writing to be spoken are different. When you read, your eyes backtrack to check things. You cannot backtrack while listening, so passages are simpler, shorter and sometimes not even complete sentences.

Here are some tips on writing for a voice-over narrative.

  • Write short, simple sentences.
  • Avoid using big words. While listeners are trying to figure out the meaning, they lose the balance of your sentence.
  • Use contractions such as “I’m” rather than “I am” or “we’re” instead of “we are.”
  • Use phrases rather than sentences. People talk in phrases, as well as sentences. Instead of “Do you understand what I said?” – “Did you get it?” – or even “Get it?”
  • Read your narrative aloud. Record it if you can, then listen or have someone else read it out loud to you. If you stumble on wording, it is too complicated. If you are having problems saying it, your listener will have problems understanding it.
  • Be conversational. Spoken words are a conversation, not text.
  • Start the sentence with the most important point. Example:
      • “A long ago time, in a far away galaxy, I had a son and it was you.”
      • “I am your father.”
  • The second has so much more punch.