For Want Of A Nail The Kingdom Was Lost


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There is an old proverb that goes:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

What I’d like to talk about today is something that affects nearly all of us as Voice Over Artists. We cannot live without it and if its done badly can be one of the most torturous parts of our job.

The Script.

I believe that I recently mentioned that I was in the middle of recording an Audio Book. The script works on my two main strengths… English and Arabic. Its a bilingual text and usually a book like this wouldn’t take me any time at all to record.

Unfortunately, I had not read the full script of the book before accepting the job. I had read the original book in Arabic and thought that I wouldn’t have any problems reading it translated.

Suffice it to say that the book is an excellent Read but was not written to be Read Out Load. When reading a passage to yourself you can always go back and make sense of it … you can do this over and over until the whole structure of the sentence becomes clear to you. Now imagine doing this while recording a 182 page book…. out loud… Doesn’t work.

Believe me I do allot of pre-recording preparation. I sit and read the text and try to make sense of what words to emphasize and where to put the right inflections. The problem is before my first session… I didn’t read it out loud. I read it to myself… Which meant my brain was doing all the correcting for me… In I go into the booth and right into one of the worst recording sessions of my career.

I agonized over it… what is wrong with me? I’ve done this a gazillion times.. why should this time be different?

The answer eventually reared its head when a friend of mine who works with me at the Advertising company (that is my day job) took a look at the script and said ” Mahmoud … are you having difficulty reading this text? Man I am reading this to myself and I’m having enough trouble.”…. Eureka! The culprit has been found!

And everything after that made sense. Instead of considering other possibilities… like maybe the person who translated the book (from arabic) had used some of the most convoluted words in the English language. She had done something that most writers and translators do without thinking. They write to be Read… not to be Read Out Loud.

This brings us to the Title of this article “For Want Of A Nail… The Kingdom Was Lost” the proverb talks about the catastrophic consequences that could occur when a little detail is overlooked. The Nail affects the shoe… the shoe affects the horse… the horse effects the rider the rider affects the battle the battle is lost.. the kingdom is lost and all of this from a small nail to hold the horse’s shoe in place while its rider faught the battle.

The Script alas is not a small player in this industry… The script is part of what makes or breaks an advert or corporate presentation or in my case … an Audio Book.

Sure this has nothing to do with us as Voice Over Actors, we don’t write the script… we are not part of the creative process that brought it into being… but the truth is… we are a huge part of how the final product is percieved. One wrong inflection here or there and the whole meaning can be turned onto its head. Although I am not much of a friends fan (I cannot stand David Schwimmer) I do enjoy how bizarre and completely off the wall Lisa Kudrow’s script delivery is. Just the awkwardness and unexpectedness constantly reinforces the originality of her character (at least to me).

As a Creative Director I am often asked to come up with script ideas for Television commercials or for conference product launches. Although usually the job of writing a script is one of the duties of the Copywriter … my boss discovered long ago that both of his Creative Directors are quite talented when it comes to script writing and so decided to forgo the expense of hiring a copywriter. Aaaanyway (I go off on allot of tangents don’t I?) that also means that if I write the script… I am most likely to voice it (my boss also discovered that he can save on paying Voice Over Talent … why do it when Taji can do it in-house!)

So If I write the script … that means that, most likely, I have control of writing this script (wait for it)… to be read! Many of our clients (we mostly cater to the pharmaceutical industry) believe that they are not only marketing managers and amazing sales people… but also are God’s gift to the creative community on earth… and so after a script is written they will try their darnedest to muck it up with their literary diarrhea. At which point I cross out all their suggestions … rewrite it again (to be read) and then record it (so that they can’t make any more alterations to it).

The reason why I wrote this post in the first place was that I was watching a BBC show yesterday called “Extraordinary People” the title of that specific episode was “The Real Sleeping Beauty” and as is the case with most BBC documentaries there is a narration that goes on top of it all to explain what’s going on. Although it was funny hearing the British narrator try to say Wichita (she kind of ate the ‘a’ at the end) for some reason I was very attuned to the script that she was reading…and I could hear where she had the most difficulty voicing certain technical jargon… the word that stood out the most was Vegetative  (the show was about a woman who stayed in a coma for 20 years and then woke up)… when she first said it … and I could tell from her millisecond pauses that she had difficulty making the whole script flow. I felt wonder at the fact that even the BBC writers didn’t write to be read out loud!

But ultimately in my mind’s eye I could see the poor woman sitting down in the studio looking at the script… tripping on the word Vegetative. And thought to myself… she has the full power of the BBC studios behind her… but in another situation one might have said:

For Lack of a Script… the VO was Lost.

Copyright © Mahmoud Taji 2009. You may not repost or reprint this Interview without Permission of the Author.


  1. I truly enjoyed listening to your first podcast this morning. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I was inspired to write another blog…

    Unfortunately, my technical jargon isn’t sufficient to give you substantial feedback on the quality of the recording. I listened to your voice through tiny earplug headphones, and that can be quite deceptive.

    I noticed a slight metallic buzz (for lack of a better description) at the start of each sentence, but perhaps I have to thank my headphones for that.

    To be continued….

  2. When I listened to Taji’s voice today, it reminded me of the Saturday afternoons when I was in a recording booth narrating texts for the blind. When you narrate for such an audience, you must be extremely succinct and clear in your speech, because the listener has virtually no visuals, only your voice, with which to understand the message. That meant that we had to describe complicated charts and graphs, algebraic equations, and complex ideas with superior clarity. The human mind and body never cease to amaze me, and within a very short period of time, I was acquiring the ability to read one line ahead with my eyes while my voice was still a line behind. This ability allowed me to self-edit while I narrating. It was especially important because on any given day they were throwing whatever text needed reading, and I had no idea what I would be reading on any particular day. Virtually everything was a cold read. And yet, there was no greater preparation for me than this. Great job, Taji.

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