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The Long and the Short of Breathing

If you’ve read my posts for a while, you know I’m a big proponent of abdominal-diaphragmatic breathing.  (If you’re not clear on what that is, click here and watch my short video.)  But there are two considerations about abdominal-diaphragmatic breathing that need explanation.

First of all, it’s slow.  To take a really good, deep breath with the diaphragm takes a few seconds.  You don’t want to attempt this in the middle of a sentence like this one:  The player is running down the court,/ and he’s tripping over his own shoelaces.

Why slow down the feeling of that sentence with a break of several seconds where I put the / mark?  But you’ll probably need a little air in the middle of that sentence.  That’s where the short, catch-breath comes in.  It’s a little puff of air you inhale that will take you to the end of the sentence where you can take a deeper breath (periods are places we can usually pause a bit longer).

This brings us to the second consideration.  If your sentences are too long, you won’t be able to take in enough air with catch-breaths to make it to the end of the sentence.  Here’s a sentence from an actual script to illustrate what I mean by long:  With a 40-year-old male non-smoker paying as little as $266, James Hunt, the group’s director, said that a lot of folks buy whole-life policies in which they may have to pay considerable money upfront but less later, only to drop the policies a few years later because of financial pressures or high-pressured salesmanship from insurance agents who want to sell them new policies.

If any of us got handed that sentence to read, we’d be in trouble in terms of breathing.  There’s no natural place to take a longer breath, and shorter ones might not give us enough air.

You have to write in short sentences if you want to have good control of your breathing.  If you’re unclear how to write that way, find out from the expert, Merv Block, in this post he wrote for me and on his website.

So the long and the short of breathing are important.  Keep sentences short and use short catch-breaths when you need them.  Save longer breaths for periods or natural places to pause.

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{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Kenneth A. Davis November 8, 2012, 12:24 pm

    I love how you point out that writing is where good breathing begins. Great post Ann! Thanks for sharing. I shared it with our friends at AFN Europe and the other instructors, here at DINFOS.

  • Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. November 8, 2012, 1:54 pm

    Thanks so much for your kind words, Ken. You and I agree on so many voice issues! I hope the DINFOS crowd finds this post helpful, as well.

  • Tim Keenan November 12, 2012, 6:43 pm

    Ahhhh – if only our CLIENTS and the WRITERS who cause VO folks such havoc would only read your posts. They’d know that shorter sentences make so much sense because that is the way we talk!! But many are used to writing for the eye and not the ear so we’re stuck with figuring out WHERE to stop to catch a breath and not make it seem weird. Or worse we have to go back and edit out the mega-breaths because of crappy scripts. But practice makes perfect and being aware that we need to find “breath stops” here and there is good advice!!

    Tim Keenan, Creative Media Recording

  • Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. November 12, 2012, 6:54 pm

    Tim, broadcasters who work with writers often face the same problem with long, print-style copy. It seems difficult to convince writers and editors that conversation is different from written material.

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