If you’re a writer, chances are you have a pretty good idea of who your characters are before you start writing. Of course, they often change as you develop them, and sometimes they can surprise you. Learning about your characters can be fun, inspiring, and satisfying,
If you’re a writer, that is.
If, on the other hand, you are a voiceover artist, characters who change and surprise you are not always a good thing.
Character evolution vs. script evolution
It’s expected that certain characters will grow and develop over the course of a story, a book, or a script. It’s what makes them likeable, unlikeable, heroes, antiheroes, human or inhuman. However, characters who change with each revision of a script are something else entirely.
I recently auditioned for the role of a businessman for an audiobook. He was a middle-aged, money-crunching fellow, not particularly fond of his wife, but unwilling to leave her because of the financial toll a divorce would take. He was one of several characters who, over the course of the book, went through various emotional changes and emerged as different people than they were initially.
That was all well and good. Little did I know how much development this character was going to go through.
“Who am I, again?”
When I was told I got the part, the producer was thrilled that I really captured the personality of this fellow, especially on one audition take. He said there were just a few lines he’d like me to redo, and that he’d be in touch with the complete script.
When I received the script, the producer had quite a few revision suggestions for me; more than I had expected, knowing how much he had liked what I had already done, but I didn’t think much of it. Revisions are part of the business. I read my lines and sent them back to him within a couple of days.
This time, the producer seemed surprised at how quickly I turned the audio around (how fast I got his audio back to him, for you non-industry types). He told me he hadn’t anticipated me doing all the lines yet, as they were still editing the final version of the script.
If it’s an audiobook, what kind of ‘script editing’ needs to be done?
But besides the fact that I went and read my lines that he sent – lines that I apparently wasn’t supposed to read yet – I was told that the character didn’t seem gruff enough, As a commercial fisherman, he should have a bruskness about him I wasn’t capturing.
Okay…hang on. Last I knew, he was a businessman.
So I redid all my lines again with a little more roughness to my voice, and emailed the audio. You know how they say third time’s the charm? Well, the producer emailed me back and said he just didn’t feel like I was right for the role. He agreed to pay me for the work I did, but after I received the payment, we parted ways.
Know what you want
I went from being the perfect voice to the worst voice, and there was nothing I could do about it. If it seems like I’m bitter or upset, I’m honestly not; these sorts of things come with the territory of doing narration and voice-acting. Sometimes you get picked, sometimes you don’t, sometimes things just don’t work out. It is what it is.
But in this case, the character went from being an unloving businessman to a gruff fisherman…not via character development, but by a script that was never nailed down. If you are a voice-seeker – a director, producer, rights-holder – please, on behalf of voice actors everywhere, know your characters before you start looking for people to bring them to life. Don’t hire someone to voice a schoolgirl and then turn them away because they’re not sultry. Don’t get upset when the guy voicing a car mechanic can’t sound like Morgan Freeman.
It’s like asking Cousin Eddie to do Shakespeare.
This goes for straight narrations, too. If you’re not sure if you want a young woman or a middle-aged man or a senior citizen to voice a particular project, poor saps like me have no idea if we’re a suitable match. What it boils down to is, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, we don’t know, either. The audiobook producers could have saved themselves and yours truly a lot of work and time by knowing what they wanted in the first place.
I never learned how that audiobook came out. I hope they found someone who could do the fisherman character justice.
For all I know, they could still be revising the script.