A Guide To Writing And Describing A Character’s Voice

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If you are a scriptwriter giving direction to a voice actor on how a character should be portrayed, it is important that you clearly detail how you wish for them to sound. You may be wondering how to write in a way that a voice actor can clearly understand and create the character you are envisioning.

When writing a script for a voice actor, it is pertinent that you are very clear and creative with your voice descriptions. Knowing the components of a voice is crucial to successfully relaying how you want your character to sound.

If you are struggling to write effective descriptions for voice actors to easily portray, continue reading this article for some potentially beneficial information that may help put some life into your characters. As a result, you are also likely to get a better response from the targeted audience.  

Intended Audience

This article is directed toward those writing scripts for voice actors. However, many of the things discussed will apply to other forms of writing, such as:

  • Fictional writing
  • Film screenplays
  • Theatrical scripts

The next section will go more in-depth on the components of a voice.

Components of a Voice

When we think of an individual’s voice, we generally just think about how it sounds. But what are the components that are making up that sound? The sound and tone of an individual’s voice can be greatly affected by many factors.

These factors can be brought to light by asking the following questions:

  • Has your character experienced the world or stayed in their home town?
  • How do they sound when they greet other people. What greeting do they use?
  • Is your character from the city or country?
  • Is your character generally optimistic or pessimistic?
  • Is your character shy and reserved or an outgoing people-person?
  • Is your character someone who speaks up or is silent when faced with problems?
  • What does your character do for a living? Are they happy with their life?
  • What does your character physically look like?
  • What interests and hobbies does your character participate in?
  • What is the age of your character?
  • What is the quality of the relationships in your character’s life?
  • What is your character’s general mood?
  • What kind of child life or upbringing did your character have?
  • What level of education has your character achieved?
  • What obstacles has your character had to overcome?
  • What style of speech does your character have, and how does their voice sound?
  • What triggers certain emotions, such as happiness, sadness, anger, etc., for your character?

Once you have answered these questions, you can create a character that your voice actor can truly immerse themselves into so they can give the best representation of what you wish to be portrayed.

What’s in a Question

Some of these questions may seem a little off the wall. However, if you consider the answers to the questions, you will be able to truly describe a character’s voice. You may still be wondering how these questions will help you to give your character its best voice.

By answering these questions, you are able to establish a background and history for the character you are creating or trying to portray. The answers to these questions will help to create a tone of voice so the actor can envision the character without actually seeing them.

By answering the questions above you and giving depth to your character, you can give your voice actor the ability to depict the character in a way that will bring them to life and grab the audience’s attention before they change the channel.  

Tones of Voice

A tone of voice is not defined by the words you say but rather the way in which you say them. A tone of voice can also refer to the way words are written to portray a certain image, whether it is for marketing a business or writing a  fictional story.

If a voice actor is not given good direction when describing the tone of voice, they will not be able to portray the character as it should be portrayed, and you will fall short with a lackluster result that will probably lose the interest of your targeted audience.

When describing a tone of voice, you need to first establish the overall tone that you wish to use. Once you have established your overall approach, you can start getting more detailed and creative with your descriptions.

The next section will break down creative descriptive words for each category of tone.

Condescending

If you want your voice actor to portray the character as being condescending, use a variety of descriptive words to spice up your descriptions for your voice actor.

Remember, synonyms are your friend. They can help you get creative with your descriptions and help eliminate redundancy. If you are describing your character and get stuck, just look up some synonyms for the word you want to use, and you will be amazed at the creative options that will be revealed.

Try some of these on for size:

Arrogant
Bumptious
Disdainful
Haughty
Highfalutin
Holier-than-thou
Know-it-all
Lofty
Lordly
Oleaginous
Patronizing
Pedantic
Pompous
Pontificating
Pretentious
Self-important
Smarty-pants
Smug
Snobby
Snooty
Stiff-necked
Supercilious
Superior
Toplofty

The next section will cover words you could use to describe a negative tone of voice.

Negative

The following words will help your voice actor depict a negative attitude of a character. Rather than just saying “so and so has a bad attitude,” you can remove the word bad and replace it with a word that will generate a better image in the voice actor’s head.

Here are some suggestions:

Austere
Bossy
Croaky
Dry
Edgy
Firm
Forceful
Frank
Grating
Growly
Hateful
Hesitant
Hokey
Insincere
Irreverent
Mawkish
Nasally
Overbearing
Petulant
Sarcastic
Serious
Snarky
Snarly
Soporific
Sullen
Tuneless
Unapologetic
Wavering
Whiny

The next section will cover words to describe a voice that has a nice sound to it.

Nice Sounding Voice

When you want your voice actor to portray a character in a pleasant or perhaps sensual way, you need to use words that bring a specific image to their head as they are reading your description of the character.

Saying that your character has a nice voice is all fine and well, but it does not give much depth to the image and leaves a lot to the voice actor’s imagination. If you want a certain voice quality portrayed, as with the previous suggestions, you must use creative descriptive words.

These words will bring life and energy to your character:

Bright
Captivating
Comforting
Deep
Ethereal
Euphonic
Feathery
Fruity
Hypnotic
Insouciant
Lilting
Luscious
Mesmerizing
Modulated
Musical
Provocative
Regal
Rich
Romantic
Sensuous
Sexy
Silvery
Smoky
Soothing
Succulent 
Sweet

The next section will cover words to help describe a positive or happy tone of voice.

Positive

If you want your character to have a positive image that portrays happiness and no negativity, you need to use words that will bring a distinct image to your voice actor’s head.

These words are examples that you can use to describe your character’s voice:

Authoritative
Caring
Casual
Cheery
Conversational
Enthusiastic
Formal
Friendly
Humorous
Informative
Matter-of-fact
Nostalgic
Passionate
Playful
Professional
Respectful
Sympathetic
Trustworthy
Upbeat
Witty

The next section will cover words to describe your character’s singing voice.

Singing Voice

Describing what a character will sound like when they sing can be a difficult task because there are so many ways to describe a person’s singing voice.

These words may help take the guesswork out of your description:

Alto
Angelic
Baritone
Breathy
Countertenor
Delicate
Dulcet
Euphonious
Falsetto
Fantastic
Harmonious
Hauntingly beautiful 
High
Lovely
Low
Lyrical
Magnificent
Majestic
Melodic
Multi-octave
Powerful
Range
Scratchy
Screechy
Tenor
Tuneful
Warbling 

The fact is, many of these words are also appropriate to use when you want to describe a person’s speaking voice.

To that point, the next few sections will cover words to describe the sound of a character’s voice.

Sound of Voice

If you listen to a group of people talking, you will start to notice that each person has a different sound to their voice. Sometimes it can be hard to find the right word to describe those different sounding voices.

This list will help you identify the sound you wish to describe for your voice actor:

Breaking
Brittle
Cacophonous
Coarse
Flat
Gravelly
Gruff
Guttural
High-pitched
Hoarse
Husky
Low-pitched
Mellow
Monotone
Plaintive
Raspy
Resonant
Rough
Scratchy
Squeaky
Squawky
Stilted
Strong
Trembling
Tremulous

The next section will cover words to describe the volume of your character’s voice. Is he going to be a blustering buffoon or perhaps a meek whisperer? Let’s find out.

Volume

There is more than one way to describe the volume of a person’s voice. Although it may be challenging, it is important to be creative when describing your character’s volume when they are speaking.

These words may help you create a better description for your voice actor:

Bloodcurdling
Blustering
Boisterous
Booming
Caterwauling
Ear-splitting
Faint
Feeble
Frail
Loud
Lowered
Orotund
Penetrating
Piercing
Quiet
Raised
Raucous
Ringing
Screeching
Shrill
Soft
Soft-spoken
Strident
Varied
Weak
Whisper

The next section will give examples of different phrases you can use to add depth to your character’s description for your voice actor.

Phrases that Add Depth to a Description

Sometimes you cannot describe something with just one word. That’s when it helps to use descriptive phrases that give the voice actor a vivid mental image of what you want them to portray.

These descriptive phrases are examples that you can use as they are or use them to give you the inspiration you need to create your own phraseology:

At the top of one’s voice

Barely above a whisper

Brimming with glee

Bubbling with enthusiasm

Cold with anger

Could make a dog howl 

Could shatter glass

Echoing in my ears

Finding his/her voice

Great set of pipes

Honks like a foghorn

Hurts my ears

Impossible to hear

Like a used car salesman

Like an angel

Like nails on a chalkboard
Like the beat of a drum

Likes the sound of his/her own voice

Music to my ears

Sing like a bird

Spoken in an undertone

Sweet a sugar

Under his/her breath

Brand/Product Voice

If you are writing a script for a voice actor who will be portraying a character as a part of an advertising campaign, it is especially important that you nail the voice descriptions.

When creating advertising, it is critical that your audience become familiar with a particular brand or product’s voice. When a voice is successfully portrayed, the audience will be able to identify the brand or product being advertised without physically seeing what is being discussed.   

With that in mind, it is important that you write descriptions that allow your voice actor to portray a character that the audience can connect with on an emotional level.

Marketing is all about playing on a person’s emotions. If you can find a way to connect on an emotional level with your targeted audience, you will be successful in any mission you undertake.

Tips for Creating Your Character’s Voice

When done properly, creating a character’s voice not only gives the audience a mental image of what the character may look like but also an idea of the character’s personality and who they are as a person.

Reginal Colloquialisms and Accents

This is where the background questions really come into play. Review the questions you asked yourself about the character whose voice you are creating.

Some of the answers to your questions will help give your character its voice by allowing you to get creative by adding a particular dialect or accent.

For instance, if you are writing directions for a voice actor that will be representing a business or product, giving your character a dialect or accent that is local to the area they are advertising in can help the audience relate to the character better and keep them engaged longer.

Watching and Listening to People

Start paying attention to and watching people everywhere you go. Listen to how they speak in large groups versus smaller and intimate conversations. Notice the patterns in their voices and the rhythms they use as they speak.

Notice their body language as they are speaking. Do they get more intense as they lean forward or more even-toned when they cross their arms?

Pay attention to how their voices change depending upon the conversation topics. Are they light and airy when they’re talking about their children or perhaps reserved when discussing their mother-in-law?

Focusing on the details and mannerisms of people as they speak will help you become a better writer. The more you study people’s speech patterns and mannerisms, the easier it will be to create awesome voice descriptions that are spot-on each time.

Think of Your Characters as People

This reiterates what was mentioned above about asking questions to fill in the background and history of the character you are trying to bring to life. It is important to think of your character as a person with thoughts and feelings.  

Try to put yourself in the character’s shoes as you describe them for your voice actor. Relating with the character you are describing will help you to write more thoughtful and vivid descriptions that will truly bring your character to life.  

For example, someone who has had a long hard life and had to struggle to succeed may have a different tone and outlook on things than a younger twenty-something person who has been fortunate and lived a life of ease.

Consistency

It is important to be consistent when writing your character’s voice description. You want to be sure that it flows and that you are not using words that don’t fit with the rest of your theme. The best way to check your writing is to read it out loud or have someone else read it to see if it flows.

If you are reading along and have to stop or stutter because a word does not fit, then you need to make some changes and find alternate wording so your voice actor can give you a flowing performance that portrays the character in its best light.

Using Similes and Metaphors for Best Descriptions

Another way to bring life to your description and give your voice actor a better mental image of what you wish them to portray is to use similes and metaphors in your descriptions.

Here are some great examples from some notable authors who used similes and metaphors for descriptive purposes:

As you can see, these descriptions really give you a more vivid mental image of the character you are describing. The great thing is you can create your own with a little thought and creativity.

The next section gives a few more things to think about when writing and describing your character’s voice for a voice actor.

Skip the Fluff – Focus on Prominent Details

When describing your character, it is all about the details. For the best description, choose the most prominent features and qualities of the character to give the best overall mental image.

Begin by creating a brainstorming list of the features and qualities you want to use to describe your character. Once you have your list, simply go through it and choose the most defining details. This will help hone in your character’s voice even more.

Other things to consider when creating and describing your character are:

  • Do they have any mannerisms or other telling features that set them apart from others?
  • Do they have any other features that make them stand out, such as piercings or tattoos?
  • Do they have any skin blemishes, scars, or birthmarks?
  • Do they have good teeth? What kind of smile do they have?
  • Do they wear makeup, jewelry, or other defining accessories?
  • How do they carry themselves? Do they stand up straight or slouch?
  • How do they have a particular scent that they put off? Do they wear cologne or perfume?  
  • What are their facial features like? Do they have a soft, round face or a strong defined jawline?
  • What color is their hair? Is it soft and flowy, coarse or curly?
  • What is their body type? Are they a mesomorph, ectomorph, or endomorph?
  • What is their skin tone; are they dark or lighter toned?
  • What is their skin’s texture? Is it smooth and supple, or perhaps it may be tough and leathery from long hours in the sun?
  • What style of clothing do they like to wear?

When you are writing your character’s voice description is important to avoid writing just a list of characteristics and traits as that can become boring, and the voice actor may not be able to put as much life into the character. By taking time to answer these questions, you can provide your voice actor with a character profile. This will allow them to understand who the character is and what they would sound like and do in a given situation.

It is imperative that you use descriptive words that instantly conjure an image in someone’s head as soon as they hear the words.

This next section will give you words that you can use to describe a character’s voice in a way that the voice actor can easily portray the image you are desiring.

Quick Descriptions

Perhaps you are writing for an advertisement that will be read on the radio. Your voice actors may be playing certain general characters that may not necessarily need a whole background and history to be created in order to describe what you want to be portrayed.

The following 155 words and phrases can give a voice actor a quick and clear image of how you wish the character to be portrayed:

Action star
Airhead
Alien
Alpha male/female
An old man or old lady
Announcer
Annoying kid or person
Aristocrat
Aspiring artist
Athlete
Attorney
Auctioneer
Baby
Baby boomer, generation X or Y
Banker
Biker
Boss
Brat
Buddy
Bully
Businessman or woman
Car salesperson
Carnival worker
Cheerleader
Chef
Child
Clown
Coach
Construction worker
Country music singer
Cowboy or cowgirl
Criminal
Damsel in distress
Demonstrator
Detective
Devil
Disk jockey
Diva
Doctor
Drill sergeant
Drunk
Dude
Dwarf
Elf
Evil King or Queen
Executive
Fairy godmother
Family man or woman
Farmer
Fashion designer
Father
Fighter pilot
Flirt
Frat boy
Game show host
Gangster
Geek
Girl or boy next door
Gnome
Grandfather
Grandmother
Grumpy old man
Heckler
Henchman
Hero
Hillbilly
Hip-hop artist
Hippie
Hipster
Hobbit
Host
Housewife
Husband
Impressionist
Instructor
Interviewer
IT Specialist
Jerk
Judge
Lawyer
Leprechaun
Librarian
Lower class
Mad scientist
Medical patient
Middle class
Millennial
Mobster
Monster
Mother
Motivational speaker
Narrator
Nerd
News anchor
Phone operator
Pirate
Plain Jane
Playful
Police officer
Politician
Preacher
Presenter
Priest
Professor
Prospector
Redneck
Regular Joe
Reporter
Robot
Rock star
Roman gladiator
Salesperson
Samurai
Schoolboy or girl
Scientist
Singer
Slacker
Smoker
Snob
Soccer mom
Soldier
Someone accepting an award
Southern belle
Southern gentleman
Spokesperson
Sportscaster
Starlet
Storyteller
Student
Superhero
Surfer dude
Teacher
Teacher’s pet
Teenager
Television host
Therapist
Toddler
Tomboy
Tourist
Troll
Trucker
Upper class
Urban youth
Valley girl
Vampire
Villian
Vixen
Warrior 
Werewolf
Wicked Witch
Wife
Wizard
Wrestler
Yuppie
Zombie

The various characters and roles listed above are worded in a way that a voice actor can easily identify the voice they should use for a particular part.

Write as Though You are the Character

The biggest tip to take from this article is to put yourself in the character’s shoes. Think about how they may be feeling and what their hopes and dreams may be.

By putting yourself into the role that you are describing, you to be more clear in your writing, and the voice actor will be able to relay that feeling and connect with the audience more effectively.

Sources:

(https://kathysteinemann.com/Musings/voices/),

(https://nybookeditors.com/2015/11/character-development-how-to-create-a-consistent-voice/), (https://writinghelpers.tumblr.com/post/41621570418/55-words-to-describe-someones-voice),

(https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-fiction/tips-for-creating-voice-in-your-writing),

((https://www.writerswrite.co.za/cheat-sheets-for-writing-body-language/),

(http://inkandquills.com/2017/03/26/ultimate-guide-mastering-character-descriptions/),

(https://jerryjenkins.com/character-emotions/),

(https://allwritealright.com/a-guide-to-writing-child-characters-authentically/),

(https://bunnystudio.com/blog/library/voice-over/voice-mimicry-for-marketers-that-want-to-sound-original/),

(https://www.voices.com/help/ultimate-guide-to-hiring-voice-actors/describing-the-sound-youre-looking-for),

(https://barbaradelinsky.com/2011/11/05/how-to-describe-a-voice/),

(https://freeformfitness.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/treated-body-types-feb16-proof1.jpg),

(https://www.brainlabsdigital.com/marketing-library/the-guide-to-finding-your-brands-tone-of-voice/),

(https://mariapellicano.com/four-types-tone-of-voice-in-communication/),

(https://www.brainlabsdigital.com/marketing-library/the-guide-to-finding-your-brands-tone-of-voice/#:~:text=A%20tone%20of%20voice%20is,%E2%80%93%20rather%20than%20spoken%20%E2%80%93%20words.), (https://www.nngroup.com/articles/tone-voice-words/), (https://www.semrush.com/blog/how-to-define-your-tone-of-voice/), (https://www.voices.com/voice-actors/role), (https://www.bartleby.com/161/3049.html),