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INTO A PODCAST WHAT IS A FICTION PODCAST?
With streamable content continuing to grow exponentially in popularity, fiction podcasts are the natural evolution of the humble radio play. Not that radio is by any means dead! but consumers now want binge-worthy content that’s available at the click of a button and fiction podcasts are fast filling the demand.
A fiction podcast differs from an audible book. Think of it as cinema for the ears. There’s music, sound effects, and a cast of voice artists involved as opposed to just one person narrating a story with nothing else happening in the background. Fiction podcasts aren’t just dramas either, just as with radio plays, there’s everything from comedy sitcoms, soap operas, short horror stories, to continuing thrillers and sci-fi anthologies.
They’re broken down into short easily digestible episodes so that listeners can dip in and out as they please, but there’s often gripping storylines and cliffhangers, giving them an addictive quality, hence the binge-listening!
BUT, I'M A SCREENWRITER, WHY WOULD I WANT TO WRITE A FICTION PODCAST?
Good question. The hard and fast answer is that you’re a storyteller, and in this day and age, you need to be flexible in regards to what formats you use to tell your stories. Being able to adapt your story idea into a different medium is ultimately going to help improve your writing skills and it’s another string you can add to your bow. Breaking into film or television is hard. Really hard. Producers and production companies won’t often take chances on new writers who don’t have any previous experience, and while a radio or podcast credit doesn’t count as a screen credit, it does show that you’ve written something good enough to get produced.
While Hollywood still loves to see writers who’ve shot short films, proof of concept videos, teaser trailers, or who have placed well in reputable screenwriting contests in order to help gauge their abilities, recording a fiction podcast episode is also now being used as a means of displaying a writer’s capabilities, and it’s a whole lot cheaper too! Plus, a short film or proof of concept isn’t going to generate any short term revenue, but a riveting fiction podcast with lots of subscribers, might.
Although the medium has been around for years, fiction podcasts are relatively new, meaning that this is the ideal time to jump on the bandwagon. Homecoming was perhaps the first podcast with a big-name cast, showing that the medium isn’t just an avenue for emerging voice actors, and with the recent pandemic slowing down film and television production, there’s a whole industry of experienced talent out there looking for work as well as a hungry audience waiting for new content.
A fiction podcast is also another great way to maximize the profit from your IP (intellectual property), so if you’ve got a great story idea, why not try to present it in as many different formats as you can? Hollywood is always on the look out for properties that already have a built-in audience because it means there’s a guaranteed market and it’s why the majority of films being produced today are adaptations. Having a well-written fiction podcast with a steady following could have Hollywood coming to you, rather than you going to it.
While classics such as War of the Worlds, The Lone Ranger, and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy are a few examples of film and television shows that stemmed from their radio series popularity, fiction podcasts are beginning to follow suit.
HOMECOMING PODCAST ADAPTATIONS
LIMETOWN THE LEFT RIGHT
LORE More importantly, writing a fiction podcast is also going to help improve your screenwriting. Not being able to rely on the visuals should help you craft better dialogue, because you’ll be writing a whole lot more of it, and cutting your 90-120-page feature down into smaller bite-sized episodes is also going to help sharpen your structure. Plus, without any budget constraints, your imagination really is the limit, so that huge explosion that floors down-town L.A. that you thought was going to be too expensive for your movie and potentially put off potential buyers, no longer will!
Homecoming centers on a caseworker at an experimental facility, her ambitious supervisor, and a soldier eager to rejoin civilian life
Ten years ago, over three hundred men, women and children disappeared from a small town in Tennessee, never to be heard from again.
An idealistic journalist tries to make a name for herself by following a group of paranormal explorers, obsessed with a seemingly harmless pastime known as the Left/Right Game.
Lore looks at dark historical tales. Each episode explores the mysterious creatures, tragic events, and unusual places that fill the pages of history.
THIS SOUND GREAT BUT HOW DO I ADAPT MY SCREENPLAY INTO A PODCAST?
1) Suitability. You need to have a story that fits the medium. Not every script can simply be adapted into an audible podcast, and nor should they be. Many scripts are meant to be visual wonders that can only be experienced on the big screen, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t a small subplot, minor character, or variation on the central theme worth exploring via a fiction podcast too. Having a completed screenplay or short film is a big plus here as it means that half the work is already done, but as long as you’ve got a great idea that suits the format, there’s no reason you can’t jump straight in!
2) Research. Get familiar with the format. Just as you watch movies and read screenplays to help you understand screenwriting, you should do the same for fiction podcasts. It’s the best way to learn how to craft an episode, learn what keeps you engaged and what doesn’t, and it’s often possible to find the script or transcript of an episode if you search for it. There are plenty out there, but obviously look for podcasts that are in the same genre as the story you want to adapt. Pay close attention to the genre conventions you’ve used in your screenplay and find out which ones can easily be transferred into an audio format and which ones don’t work so well.
Here’s a short list to get you started: -
night vale PODCAST RECOMMENDATIONS
wolf 359 WOODEN
SESSIONS A strange and surreal twice-monthly community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, where every conspiracy theory is true. Turn on your radio and hide.
Set on board the U.S.S. Hephaestus space station, the dysfunctional crew deals with daily life-or-death emergencies, while searching for signs of alien life
A British sitcom podcast about rival
funeral directors based in the English Channel.
A science fiction podcast that follows a group of therapy patients. But these are not your typical patients - each has a unique supernatural ability.
BLOOD TIES PASSENGER
THE TRUTH THE UNXPLAINED
MARS PATEL Tells the story of siblings Eleonore and Michael Richland, who are left to pick up the pieces after their parents' private plane vanishes en route to a family Christmas vacation in the Caribbean
A missing plane, a cabin full of suspects.
Makes movies for your ears. They're short stories that are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, and always intriguing
A fun serial mystery that can be described as Goonies meets Spy Kids meets Stranger Things for 8-12 year olds.
3) Compare. Examine already adapted podcasts to help you discover what elements work well in both formats. Listen to the teaser trailer for the Homecoming podcast for example - https://gimletmedia.com/shows/homecoming/76h5dl/preview and then compare it to the teaser trailer for the television series - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WJSdpE-sJQ and notice how the dark shadows, the dim lighting masking the visuals, and the obscure camera angles all allow the audio to take center stage much more than usual. You almost need to reverse engineer your screenplay in the same way, focusing on how to re-tell your story using only sound.
4) Narrative Techniques. Using a narrator is a common way to relay a story to the listeners in a fiction podcast, so if your screenplay heavily relies on voice over, this could make for an easier adaptation. Other common elements used are voice recordings, news reports, or audio diaries, so consider whether any of these might work well when adapting your script, or could you buck the trend and find alternative ways of pushing the medium to make it better suit your story? Also remember, if your story contains flashbacks, flash forwards, or dream sequences etc., you also need to make sure that the listeners will understand when they’re happening, otherwise it’ll lead to confusion.
5) Formatting. At this stage, there’s no definitive podcast script format, so you should stick to using what you’re most comfortable with. Standard screenplay script is perfectly acceptable as is radio play format (you can find an example of what one looks like here) or stage play format (which looks like this).
6) Length. Not every episode has to be exactly the same length, but a consistent average is desirable. If you used the traditional three-act structure to write your screenplay, you should be able to use your story beats and turning points to create end of episode hooks when you chop your script into smaller podcast episodes. A 120-page screenplay for example could potentially be divided up into a 4x30minute episodes, 8x15minute episodes, or even 6x20minute episodes. Use whichever helps create a gripping pace which also keeps the dramatic momentum going.
7) Limitations. You’ll need to recognize which elements of your screenplay will or won’t work if adapted to podcast format. This could be anything from character occupations, physical traits, big visual set pieces, fight or action sequences, or quick cut montages. Be prepared to make some alterations to your script, whether it’s cutting a scene, changing the way exposition is delivered, or writing a new scene altogether. Until a script is produced, nothing is set in stone, so don’t feel that you need to stay true to your original screenplay at all times.
8) Characters. You’ll need to find other ways of revealing character without using visuals and without inserting long monologues that risk boring the audience. As with a screenplay, you need to have interesting and engaging characters that we’ll want to follow, and it’s a given that your characters are going to be doing a lot more talking in a fiction podcast than they would on screen, so use this to your advantage. Think about giving your character’s roles/scenarios that allow for this, such as being a radio DJ as in Welcome to Night Vale, a therapist recording sessions as in The Bright Sessions, or an obsessed researcher as in Passenger List.
9) Voice. A large cast of characters could become confusing to the listener, so you may have to cut or condense the cast of your screenplay. Try to have no more than four characters talking during one scene (which is also good advice for a screenplay) and look for ways to make every voice distinct from one another by varying ages, genders, regional accents, or distinct mannerisms etc. If we can’t see them, it’s all the more important that we can distinguish one character from another.
10) Dialogue. The whole ‘show, don’t tell’ mantra doesn’t sound so simple once you’ve stripped out all of the visuals. The listeners won’t be able to see facial expressions or reactions, but you still need to relay what’s happening in a scene without it being overly expositional. Be specific when detailing what emotion or tone you want a character to be expressing. Conversations needs to sound natural, as though the audience is listening in on a real conversation, so there’s more leeway to add in realistic mannerisms that would otherwise be potential cuts in a screenplay.
11) Scene description. The audience can no longer see all of the visuals you use to set the scene in your script, so you’re going to have to lose most of this and focus on using sound instead. Use background noise or ambience here. Waves lapping on the shore immediately evokes a beach setting, add to that a sound effect of a seagull or boat engine to create a more specific location, and a crack of thunder or howling wind helps add a layer of mood and atmosphere. Learn that it’s all about what we can hear instead of what we can see and let the listener’s imagination do most of the work.
Okay, I’ve adapted my screenplay into a fiction podcast, but what do I do now?
WE HAVE JUST LAUNCED OUR PODCAST CONTEST.
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THEY WILL ALSO RECEIVE $1000 IN CASH EACH.
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