Understanding Character Objectives and Actions

You may not fancy yourself as much of an “actor.” Maybe friends, family, or even people you work with have just told you “you’ve got a great voice! You should do something with that voice, or at least take some classes.” While having a pleasant natural sound, appealing texture, or other distinctive biological feature is fantastic, it’s only the start. 

Consider, for example, some of the corporate presentations you’ve been forced to sit through, or the news anchor who comes on at 10 pm. Sure, they sound nice, but without some level of passion and energy behind that voice, it can easily lull you to sleep.

The good news is that you don’t have to have years of drama training or a background in theatre to successfully dig deeper with your character work. By simply understanding and then using character objectives and actions, you can fill the “inner life” of your reads with the sort of nuance and staying power that translates to being memorable and booking more work.

Use the tips in this article to plan out where you’re going with a character read.

Objectives: What Do I Want?

Throughout our daily lives, we all have wants. We have both short- and long-term goals, like:

  • I want my boss to agree to give me a raise.
  • I want to take a vacation.
  • I want to improve my family’s health.

Those are our objectives – the big desires that guide our days and broader lives, as people and as characters. We have many at any given time, and they can be big or small. 

For the purpose of creating a backstory for a character in a piece of copy, we generally focus on one specific objective. Notice that I used the word “specific.” Thinking about the examples listed above, they’re all wonderful goals, but could they be more precise? The more precise we are with our goals, the more likely they are to happen. For the sake of slipping into character, the more precise our goal is, the easier it is to pretend to be that person.

Here are some ways those objectives, for example, could be made more focused:

  • I want my boss to agree to give me a raise of $5,000 per year, by the end of this year.
  • I want to take a vacation to the Bahamas, at an all-inclusive, adults-only resort. 
  • I want to improve my family’s health by preparing nutritious meals together five nights of the week and going for a hike every Sunday.

Already, if I asked you to imagine yourself in the shoes of one of these characters, you would probably feel more relaxed if choosing an option from the second list.

Now, how do you make that want a reality?

Actions: How Do I Get What I Want?

Having a want is the first step. The next step is finding a way to get what we desire. We use actions to move other people to help us move toward our goals (our objectives).

When this concept was first introduced to me many years ago, it felt a little icky. “I’m not trying to coerce other people into doing things they don’t want to!”, I thought. 

However, let’s think back to an everyday example. If you want to see a new movie that just came out, you may try to persuade your significant other to see the movie with you. “To persuade” is your action in this case. But you are likely trying to persuade him or her to see the movie with you because you think they will enjoy it, too. 


In voice-over, actions are the verbs we choose to help us find the appropriate vocal and physical gestures to get closer to our objective. Think of them as tactics. They are always thought about as verbs, because verbs are actionable – we can do them, not just think about them.

Considering that any verb is fair game, as far as being considered an action, there are literally thousands of options. Some examples of common actions you might use as a character might be:

  • To nudge
  • To provoke
  • To call to action
  • To encourage
  • To educate
  • To soothe

The list goes on and on from there, with entire books dedicated to providing you with action words. 

Using character choices isn’t reserved only for those studying animation. While taking a few extra moments before you perform to think about your character objective and the action(s) you want to use, you free yourself up to play with those qualities and choices during the actual read. In this way, you become further committed to the character, which makes your read stand out as personable and unique, rather than generic.

What other parts of script analysis help you go deeper with your character work? Comment below!



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