Voice-over narration: something all screenwriters have heard of and seen in a variety of films and television series. Whether we hate voice-over or love it, there’s a time and place on when to use it.
Truth be told, not every script needs to have a voice-over, but some can find a huge benefit from it. However, keep in mind that there's a large section of the industry that despises voice-over no matter the situation.
What I can tell you is to not care what individual sections of the "industry" have to say and focus on what you want to say. If you truly believe that adding voice over will add something unique to your story, then do it!
Nonetheless, to highlight voice-over narration and when you should and shouldn’t do, we’re going to take a dive into the subject to see if it’s right for you. Let’s take a look!
Write V.O. Like a Normal Character
For those of you who are beginners and are unfamiliar with voice-over narration, here’s what you need to know about it. Voice-over is a part of a movie or television show where someone is narrating rather than acting with dialogue. It’s not super common, but it occurs in a big chunk of films.
To actually write voice-over narration, you write it as you would if it was a character. If a role in your script is the one doing the voice-over, then you would put their name with V.O. next to it. Otherwise, you would leave it as a standard V.O. or whatever.
Only Use V.O. If It Adds to The Story
As for when you should use voice-over, you generally only want to use it if it adds something to your story. Just like you wouldn’t add a bland character for no reason, you wouldn’t add voice-over just for the sake of adding voice-over.
If you have a complicated story or a quirky comedic story that can thrive with some voice-over narration, that would be the time to add it. As stated earlier, picture the voice-over as a character. Doing so will help you realize when you should add it or not.
Never Use V.O. To Explain the Plot
Generally speaking, films that use voice over to explain the plotline aren’t the best films available to watch. Doing the cheap method of having a narrator explain everything is something every screenwriter should avoid.
Your story should move along and be able to be explained on its own without the use of voice over. Voice-over narration can be a powerful tool if used correctly but can also ruin a film if misused.
Examples of Great V.O. Narration
To understand how you can use voice-over for your script, if it needs, you should look at examples of excellent voice-over narration. To give you a starting point to check out, here are a few examples of films with excellent voice-over:
Still from "Memento", a great example of V.O. Narration. Photo credit: letterboxd.com
● Memento (2000)
● Raising Arizona (1987)
● Apocalypse Now (1979)
● A Clockwork Orange (1971)
● Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
● American Psycho (2000)
● The Big Lebowski (1998)
● Trainspotting (1996)
● Taxi Driver (1976)
● Fight Club (1999)
● Goodfellas (1990)
Examples of Bad V.O. Narration
Other than looking at excellent voice-over narration, you should consider looking at awful examples. Some of these films might not be the worst one’s ever made, but the voice-over, in particular, is useless and ruins the film.
● Theatrical Cut of Blade Runner (1982) (Voice-over was later removed in the director’s cut)
● Dune (1984)
● Spider-Man 1 to 3 (2002 to 2007)
● Twilight Series (2008 to 2012)
Hopefully, by now, you understand the importance of voice-over narration and when you can properly use it for your script. Keep in mind that some people might recommend to never have a voice-over narrator, but if Spielberg, Scorsese and Nolan used it, then you certainly can too.