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More Than Just a Silly Voice

By Amy Harder

AugieI’ve been thinking a lot about characters and character development lately. Maybe it’s because I’m getting back into writing; maybe I’ve seen too many pathetic attempts at live puppetry; or maybe I’ve just been reading too many storybooks to my kiddos. (Wait–is it really possible to read too many kids’ books? Hmm.) Well, whatever the reason for my personal desire to dig deeper into the realm of character development, I thought I’d share some of my discoveries.

First of all, there’s more to it than just a silly voice. Sure, the quality of the voice has a lot to do with a particular character’s likability and longevity, and it’s important for puppeteers to spend time working on developing consistent, fun, and believable character voices. But let’s go beyond that and look at other aspects of good characters.

Backstory. You need to know who your character is and what has happened in his past that has shaped the way he is today. Read voice actor Penny Abshire’s article Characters In My Pocket for some excellent examples of backstory.

Backstory leads to emotion. When you know your character’s past, you can more easily know how he’s going to feel–and therefore, react–in a given situation. And emotion is key to connecting with your audience. Ed Hooks has some great things to say about this in his book Acting for Animators.

Emotion leads to motion. Avoid the oh-so-frequent, pointlessly-flailing puppet by understanding what your puppet is feeling so you can better display the emotion through your acting. I’ve written a lot about puppet movements here on PuppetryLab… you might want to refresh your memory with Movements and Poses or The Whole Enchilada. You might also want to check out Bill Woodburn’s article Creating a Puppet Character over at the Puppetry Home Page. He lists some foundational ideas on how to physically design and move your puppet based on the particular character and emotion. Very nice.

But wait, there’s more!

Don’t overlook the likability factor. You want the audience to connect with your character. Rather than fumble through my own interpretation of this, lemme point you to two excellent articles that will undoubtedly offer direction in this endeavor. The first is On Heroes by Andrew at the PuppetVision blog. The other is a new post by animator/writer/director/voiceguy Tim Hodge called Creating Likable Characters. Tim gives some great examples and offers a ton of helpful info.

Tim Hodge's blog

OK. Is that enough reading homework for you today? Go read. Then play. It’s amazing to see the organic development that occurs when you take time to play with your characters. If you’d like some extra credit reading, check out my other bookmarks about characters and character development on del.icio.us.


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4 responses to “More Than Just a Silly Voice”

31 03 2008
Angie Williams (09:48:14) :

Thanks for the great article Amy. My husband and I are currently working on writing mini bios for all of our main characters. We’re constantly creating new bits and pieces of their history, but it’s time to get it in writing so that we can fully understand who they are. Your article and the links you included are just what we needed at this time! God Bless!

www.myspace.com/atomicpuppets

1 04 2008
Kelvin Kao (20:02:38) :

I’m currently taking a voiceover class. The coach said that if you want to find one’s character, find his laugh. If you can figure out how he laughs, you will know what kind of person he is.

1 04 2008
Amy Harder (20:40:39) :

Angie — glad to hear it was timely and helpful!

Kelvin — Good point. That’s exactly how I “got” one of my characters — my main standby little girl character. Her cutesy, infectious laugh was the hook that grabbed me and pulled me right into who she is. Her voice, her background, and the whole rest of her character flowed so easily after the creation of her laugh. Let’s see… that was fifteen years ago last month. How time flies!

30 07 2009
Dave (11:47:25) :

I Love this stuff! More please!!! Why don’t you update anymore?!!

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