How to voice a tear-jerker

A listener, weeping.

A listener, weeping.

Sometimes voiceovers are asked to create real emotion. Like, real emotion. Sometimes a script demands that I have to cry. Actual tears!

Now there’s nothing worse than listening to fake crying. That dry, choking, coughy sound that sounds so technical and has no basis in emotional reality whatsoever. For me, I relish the opportunity to have a good weep. I’m an emotional person (I’ve even been known to cry at butter commercials. You know the one – where the lovely family’s all sitting around their lovely table eating lovely sandwiches. I watch it and I’m in bits. Every time. They all love each other and come together around that wonderful table with a shared love of butter. It’s beautiful and it gets me every time). So when I’m asked to cry, I guess I just go back to my natural state.

How does a voiceover cry to order? Well, it’s gotta be real. There’s no point in just falling back on technique and pretending to cry. That’s gonna fool no-one. So you’ve got to really feel it. I was taught the Stanislavski method of acting, so I rely on my emotional memory. This means remembering a time when I’ve felt upset and sort of borrowing that emotion to bring to a performance.

Now, even though my life reads like a rejected plotline from Hollyoaks, I haven’t been in EVERY SINGLE terrible situation there is. I haven’t, for instance, been pulled from a burning building. I haven’t been pulled over for drink driving. My life hasn’t been ravaged by drug abuse. But I can use my emotional memory to imagine it. To identify with it.

This is how I do it:

1. Read the script. See it needs proper crying.
2. Clap with delight. Another opportunity to purge my terrible internal torture!
3. Remember a moment when I’ve felt a similar emotion.
4. Go into that feeling, without fear.
5. Feel the feeling.
6. Bring that feeling to the forefront of my emotional memory so it’s ready to use when I’m recording the script.
7. Read the script. Cry.
8. Console the traumatised producer.
9. Repair my face.
10. Record the next script.

Have a listen to some of my tearyest work:

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Emma Clarke

Emma is an award-winning voiceover, broadcaster and writer. Want to find out more about Emma?
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