How to sound natural when reading your audio story

Much as written music is meant to be performed, audio stories are meant to be spoken. On paper, an audio story exists in two dimensions. The voice adds emotion, texture and nuance. What's on the page might feel choppy or staccato. Voicing can provide polish and rhythm. In fact, radio writing isn’t always beautiful when it’s read on the page. It needs to be enacted.

Voicing can be approached from two schools of thought. The first focuses on the technical aspects of a well-performed script. This approach emphasizes breathing, intonation, projection and other aspects of speech.

An alternative approach emphasizes writing: Good writing drives good voicing. The idea is to tackle the roots of voicing problems where they begin ― on the page. By producing a script with short, direct sentences, well-defined scenes and a clear, overarching focus, much of the work that goes into voicing has already been accomplished. The only remaining hurdle is to sound natural.

Here are two more ways to prepare your script.

  • Marking scenes: Draw a horizontal line on your script any time there's a new scene ― a move to a new topic or issue, from one location to another or, in cinematic terms, from a close-up to a panoramic shot. Treat your scene lines like mini stop signs. A few words before you reach the black line, look up, finish the sentence (without looking back down) and then, when you're done, pause and return to the script. Train your eyes to leave the page. You'll sound less like you're reading a script and more like you're telling a story.
  • The mouth edit: Read aloud the story you've written. (This technique isn't limited to audio writing. Famed nonfiction author John McPhee always reads aloud his prose.) The goal is to find and remove non-conversational language by “testing” words ― trying them out, seeing how they fit.

A well-written script frees you to focus on sounding natural, which has a magical way of taking care of the many technical issues such as breathing, pacing and pausing.

Taken from Writing for the Ear, a self-directed course by Dan Grech at Poynter NewsU.

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    Vicki Krueger

    Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current position as marketing communications manager.


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