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Give Your Voice Over Characters More
Character With 'Conditions' and 'Agendas'

By Patrick Fraley
Voice Over Performer and Trainer

Note: This article is excerpted with permission from the author's newly revised Complete Book of Voice Over Exercises, available here.

Distinct characters often possess a condition or agenda.

A condition is a temperament, a problem, or propensity toward acting a certain way, that is always there. For example, being mean, stupid, a wallflower, a snob, or insane.

An agenda is a little different than a condition. An agenda has to do with a character wanting something and going about getting what they want in a particular way.

A condition is a circumstance, which the character possesses that they may be able to overcome like being stupid, or insane.

Characters who are condition- or agenda-driven provide the audience continuity, yielding a sense of knowing the character and that they may trust the character to react within the limitations of the agenda or condition. There is immediate familiarity.

In a sense, characters who possess a condition or agenda are delightfully limited. In many cases, the condition or agenda, which you may "add" to a character, brings them from stereotypical, or on a "one level performance," to a "two level performance."

An Archetype (type of character) most always yields a hint to a condition or agenda.

For example:
  • An "Airhead" hints to a condition of being na├»ve, ignorant, or of low intelligence.
  • A "Snob" hints to a character with an agenda to diminish others, justify a world view, or perhaps demand his or her "right" to discern.
It gets more fun when one considers creating a character with both a condition and an agenda.

As an example, bring to mind Don Knotts' "Barney Fife" character on "The Andy Griffith Show." Don Knotts played Barney as a character with the condition of being frightened. He added to that the agenda of appearing confident, a know-it-all, and being in control.

The "dance" between his condition and his agenda was a constant delight.
Patrick Fraley is a foremost voice over industry voice talent, trainer, director and producer. As a voice actor he has created the voices for more than 4,000 characters, placing him among the top 10 performers of all time to be cast in animated programs - including the voice of Krang, Casey Jones, Baxter Stockman and numerous other characters in the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated television series, and the voice of Falcon in the 2003 Stuart Little animated television series. As a  trainer, he is a prolific author of books and creator of CDs on the art of voice over performance and business. And scores of home study courses are offered at his website on voice over performance, audiobook narration, narration, character development, acting, demos, video game performance and more.

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Comments (2)
Jim Gooden
8/3/2022 at 11:00 AM
Thanks for sharing your insights on making reads more interesting and effective. We must remember that we are voice actors, not merely voices.
Randall Rensch
8/2/2022 at 3:35 PM
The two elements' interaction adds a complexity that pulls your character away from the common "funny voice" that, say, a TV host might do briefly in adlibbing a joke. When the elements are clearly in your mind, you become a character unlike (roughly) any other. It becomes extendable and repeatable without getting boring.

For further distinctiveness, add other elements, such as age, a celebrity mannerism (NOT an impression!), the environment (indoors, outdoors, battlefield, whatever), pitch (try a different range than you naturally fell into). Simple elements that you can remember and that will affect the character consistently. And have fun!
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