In the first part of this series, we discussed how to prepare your story and how to enhance your ability to describe a setting or scene to your players in order to get the most out of their imagination and ability to visualize their surroundings. Today We will look at the use of ones voice in story telling, as well as how to be animated.
We all use our voices a great deal. Some probably more than they should, but when it comes to story telling, mastering the way you use tone, pitch and inflection is paramount to developing great technique. No one wants to listen to someone waffle on and on in a monotone voice, or feel like they need to adjust the volume knob either up or down on the speaker. Most people truly do not understand their own voice that well, and if you listen to yourself speak on a recording you may think to yourself “Do I really sound like that’? Also most people do not like the sound of their own voice. As a story teller you need to get used to it. become comfortable with your vocal sound, and learn to adjust it. Just like a fine instrument it needs tuning from time to time. We will begin by the use of tone, or volume. Tone is used to imply the emotional element in language. In speaking as apposed to music, higher tone is achieved by the use of increasing volume, and lower by decreasing. When you speak quieter you encourage people to listen more intently, and it sets an air of tension and intrigue. When you speak loudly it becomes dynamic and dramatic. When you switch from quiet to loud you can create a sudden impact or even startle or frighten your listeners. read this next paragraph but when you do read the the standard text quietly in your head and the bold loudly.
“You creep towards the casket. Your breath can bee seen as you exhale in the cold night air. As you get closer you remove the wooden stake and hammer from your coat and tremble with anticipation. You slowly begin to remove the lid SUDDENLY the lid bursts open and a grotesque monstrosity sits bolt upright!”
Reading it is not the same as hearing it but you understand the point. The use of volume is important if you wish to entice emotion and reaction. When I speak quietly I typically lean forward a little. As human nature is such that we often mimic, my players will follow suit. Then when my vocal volume suddenly increases they are startled. This is a great way to capture the right mood around the table. I may often employ the use of correct lighting too, but that is more of a prop than a part of the story telling itself.
Next we will look at pitch. Pitch is the resonance in ones voice. Pitch is similar in use to tone but a higher pitch can imply a brighter outlook, where as a lower pitch a more somber one. A higher pitch will often also increase the tone, but it does not have too. A deliberate decrease in volume can be achieved as one increases pitch if you so desire. Pitch can also be used to capture mood in storytelling. Think about reading the night before Christmas to a child on Christmas eve, and saying “not even a mouse” in a higher pitch. Or better yet, Bilbo telling the little hobbits about the troll encounter in the first of the lord of the rings trilogy (the fellowship of the ring).
“So their i was at the mercy of three monstrous trolls! and they were all arguing among-st themselves about how they were going to cook us. Whether it be turned on a spit, or whether they should sit on us one by one, and squash us into jelly. Well they spent so much time arguing the whether too’s and the why fores, that the suns first light crept over the trees POOF!and turned then all to stone!”
At the end when he says “and turned them all to stone”, his pitch goes up, but his volume does not. This use of pitch when accompanied by tone is the key to using voice to illicit emotional response from your listeners, and in our case our players. On Howreroll, I am not only speaking to my players, but also my viewers. It is this use of pitch and tone that I get across the desired emotional response from my audience.
Finally we will look at vocal inflection. Now while it is true that inflection is the modification in tone and pitch of the voice, and as such has already been covered in part above, it is more than that. It is used to create change in the form of a word to express a grammatical function. Inflection can alter the entire meaning of a statement. for example.
“I am all out of spells, what can I do?” If used with raised pitch at the end of the sentence implies disrepair, where as if said more like this “I am all out of spells, what CAN I do!?” it implies are more thoughtful questioning statement.
It is important to master inflection as a storyteller, as it makes for a much clearer understanding of a situation. Incorrect use of inflection can be misleading, and in the case of game play, may even cause a player to perform a different action or make a different decision than he would have. Be conscious of your use of inflection, and make sure that it is applied clearly so that your audience can gain the correct intention.
A final note on the use of your voice is in regard to voice acting. This is a passion of mine, and as I was blessed with a very varied set of vocal chords and an unyielding disregard for my own shame, I voice act almost all of my Non Player Characters and use vocal sound effects for monsters grunts, roars and other strange unnatural sounds. IF this is something you have a talent for then by all means use it. It can really bring to life your characters, creatures and your world in general. That being said, you need to be honest with yourself. If you do NOT have a talent for it then DON’T DO IT! you will end up failing with your inflections and use of tone and pitch, and will actually detract rather than add to your storytelling. I respect those that do not voice act and know that they are not good at it. You can be a good story teller without it. unfortunately I know and have watched several Dungeon Masters who simply fail at it, and it really hurts their content delivery. Some of them I know do it because they feel they should emulate those of us that do, but if you do not have a talent for it, or are comfortable enough to be flamboyant with it, you are far better shying away from its use all together.
Finally I want to look at an often overlooked tool of the story teller. The human body.
In a story telling sense I am not referring to animation as cartoons or drawings. Animation is in the use of your body language to amplify your delivery. In a previous article (here), I discussed the differences between a physical and virtual table top, and in how I am able to be more animated at the physical table. If you watch me Dungeon Mastering on Howreroll, I am limited in my animation. This is because I am confined to a small pip camera window and can not move much without going out of frame. Around the physical table however, at times I can become a proverbial whirling dervish. When describing a scene of a combat I hurl my arms and legs around and jump up out of my chair quiet often. I move around the table and get right up on individual players when a Non Player Character would be getting close and personal with a players character. I crouch down next to them, with a squint and tilted head that moves awkwardly from side to side as he leans in quietly and says “I know what it is you seek!”. Many of us talk with our hands. That is to say as we speak to someone our hands become animated. This use of body language helps us bring a visual aspect to what we are saying and is also used to imply intent. For example. If we say ‘Hey you over there!” to a single person as we look directly at them, they know we are referring to them. If we say the same to a group of people and they all look at us we point, to clarify which person we were directing the comment towards. We throw our hands up to express disrepair or to imply we are questioning something. We may ball up our fist to express or amplify our frustration. This use of body language is a great tool that should not be ignored by the story teller. You can use your entire body to help tell your story. From demonstrating an action to tilting your head to imply that your Non Player Character is listening more intently than before.
I have played in several games where the Dungeon Master was content to sit on his ass and slough in his chair. Not one of these sessions did I ever truly enjoy. The lack of enthusiasm is a killer for me at a gaming table. In this same way I hate running games for players that do the same thing. If you are at my gaming table you WILL sit up, pay attention and be enthusiastic. If not I will send you home! For a Dungeon Master of story teller to act this way is unforgivable.
A good Dungeon Master and story teller will be enthusiastic. This enthusiasm is often exemplified in their use of body language and the level of animation they display at different times. If we are in a tense combat situation, I want to stand up and be active. Often demonstrating the thrust of a dagger, or the chopping motion of an axe. It all adds to developing, enhancing and maintaining the correct mood and emotion from the players around you.
“I’m a story teller, and my stories must be told!”
Story telling is an art. Any art must be practiced. Some people are more natural at it than others, but everyone can improve and learn to become better tellers of tales if they put their mind to it. Too many people assume they can tell a story. Many can not do it well. Its like a good joke. Some people can tell a joke and its just not funny. A good comedian can tell the same joke and people will laugh their ass off. Its not in the words chosen, but in the manner in which the joke was delivered that made it funny. The story is no different. Tell a story with no passion or emotion and it is boring. Tell it with vibrantly and with vigor and it is exciting……..