By Lee Hamilton
Fiction podcasting may still be relatively new to some of you out there, but it’s an innovative story-telling format that’s breaking boundaries AND it’s also a great place to kick-start your screenwriting career.
With Hollywood already grabbing IP with revenue potential, writing in an audio-only format comes with some distinct challenges for the screenwriter and it can be daunting knowing where to start.
Thankfully, we’ve compiled the top 5 considerations you should be thinking about as you start writing your fiction podcast, which will hopefully give you a better understanding of the medium and get your creative ideas flowing too…
Concept: Assessing whether your idea is compatible with an audio-only format is the first thing you’ll need to think about. Not every story suits being told without visuals. Whether you’re adapting one of your own feature or tv pilots or starting from scratch, you’ll need to review how best to deliver the drama, conflict, tension, exciting set-pieces, and emotion by sound alone.
A blockbuster with lots of visually exciting action sequences and SFX probably isn’t going to translate into an audio format very easily without some major adjustments. This may mean focusing the story on the more emotional and intimate moments, shortening action sequences, and relying a lot more on exposition-heavy dialogue. Or it could mean that a story like that is better left to being shown on the screen and starting with a new idea. Understanding the limitations that come with audio-only storytelling will help you decide which is best for your own stories, ideas, and projects, as you’ll also need to consider how to indicate time jumps, scene transitions, montages, and flashbacks, etc. using sound alone.
Scene Description: Storytelling doesn’t just come via narration (although it can play a huge part), and you can and should think about using a whole host of other audible sounds to help bring a story to life in the listener’s mind. You need to use scene description to establish the setting, evoke tone, and engage the reader in a fiction podcast script just as much as you would do in a screenplay, and this is where building a soundscape comes into play. The focus now needs to shift from telling us what we can see to what we can hear.
Background noise, sound effects, and music can help to create atmosphere and ambiance, but you’ll also need to consider how to establish a setting using sound and keep it interesting for the audience. How would you make a scene in a living room audibly engaging, for example, or might you need to consider a more interesting location, etc.?
Hooks: Unlike in cinema, where the movie should (hopefully) have the audience’s undivided attention, a fiction podcast needs to work that little bit harder to keep the attention of the audience who can potentially be anywhere and doing anything while they listen. Users may be doing chores, commuting, or even trying to drop off to sleep while they listen to your podcast. That means that part of their brain may be focusing on their surroundings, completing tasks, or trying to switch off.
This doesn’t mean your story needs to be fast-paced, but it does mean you need to have a gripping concept with engaging characters that leave the listeners wanting to know more.
Voice: Unique or compelling characters are always a must, but with podcasts, we need ones with distinct voices more than ever. This means more actor direction may be needed in your script that doesn’t just describe what a character says, but how they say it.
Many podcasts are recorded remotely, meaning that voice actors may be recording their part at home, without the other voice actors or director being present, making it essential that your script tells them everything they need to know.
It’s harder to keep track of something sonically than it is visually, so if there are voices that sound similar, it could cause confusion. It’s also wise to limit how many characters you have in a scene. A tried and tested rule is to limit the number of characters to no more than four, as more than this risks overloading the listener.
Dialogue: Whereas in a screenplay, dialogue should play second-fiddle to the visuals; in a fiction podcast, the dialogue is suddenly the single-most-important element when telling the story. The ‘less is more’ rule still applies though, as there will be even more temptation to have characters deliver far too much exposition than is really needed.
A person wouldn’t normally describe everything they can see out loud in real life, so you shouldn’t do this in your script either. Within a podcast, you are still encouraging the audience to use their imagination to do some of the heavy lifting. Don’t feel you need to over-describe everything. Give enough to paint the picture in the listener’s mind, then let them fill in some of the blanks. And feel free to include subtext much as you would in a screenplay. Great voice actors are able to convey double meanings, inflection, and sarcasm with the precision of a look in traditional screenwriting.
We hope these Top 5 Podcast writing tips have helped you learn some more about the craft behind this exciting format. At present, there’s lots of experimentation going on, boundaries are being broken, unconventional genres are being mashed together, and presently, there are no MPAA rating restrictions to adhere to. So your own imagination is the limit when it comes to creating content.
Do some research, find fiction podcasts that grab you, and pay attention to how they do it, then get writing your own!
Lee Hamilton is a script reader, developer, and author. Lee was one of the original readers to join Shore Scripts and has since moved into education and development, penning numerous articles, workbooks, and writing courses.
Don’t forget! Our readers are waiting to read your story in our Fiction Podcast Contest. Find out more by clicking the link!