The rise of fiction podcasting has created a unique opportunity for storytellers to make a living through their craft, sidestepping the financial constraints and closed doors of traditional Hollywood.
So what is the process of audio-only storytelling? What benefits and challenges does the medium present, and how can writing for a fiction podcast inform and improve your writing for film and television? Austin Film Festival’s Fiction Podcast Track has hosted many of the top writers from this emerging industry and we’re looking to them for answers on how to properly craft your story for the acoustic medium.
Here are six tips for audio storytelling from the leading writers in the world of fiction podcasts:
1. FIND A STORY THAT SUITS THE MEDIUM
In terms of finding the right story to tell, I think that sound has to be the character and the main driving force behind every choice that you make. Why am I telling the story in audio only? Why is it not a visual medium? And, I think once you figure out that question and the angle of which to tell the story, I think that’s kind of the key—to find the aural way of saying this rather than showing it.
– KC Wayland (writer/director We’re Alive; producer Bronzeville) at AFF 2017
2. ALLOW TIME TO EXPERIMENT
You don’t have visual cues, so you have to think of how to smartly use sound design and how to actually convey the visual in a strictly audio way, and that can take some experimentation…you have to build in experimentation time. So, it’s about writing and then recording, producing a little, seeing how that’s working, and then kind of coming back to it.
-Christy Gressman (Partner/Executive Producer, Night Vale Presents; producer The Orbiting Human Circus; executive producer Adventures in New America, Dreamboy, It Makes A Sound) at AFF 2018
3. USE SILENCE TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
Silence, too, is a really good resource, because most people who are listening to audio drama have seen TV shows. They’ve seen films. They’ve seen plays. And from context, you imagine what the silence is—you’re going to fill in that silence yourself, and that can make it even more exciting as a listener because you can’t actually see what the expressions are on the actor’s faces, but given…what just came before that silence, you’re going to fill in that space and you can imagine whatever you want.
-Lauren Shippen (Creator The Bright Sessions, The AM Archives; CEO, Atypical Artists) at AFF 2017
4. PREPARE FOR FEEDBACK
you constantly have feedback from people about, “I think this works” or “This doesn’t work,” and you really have to learn how to take that in. You won’t have to take every note everyone gives you, you’d be overwhelmed if you did that, but you will learn very quickly that you can’t push back against criticism. you have to just receive it, and what you do with it after that is up to you.
-Jeffrey Cranor (writer/creator Welcome to Night Vale, Within the Wires) at AFF 2018
5. GIVE YOUR LISTENER SOME CREATIVE CONTROL
You have an utterly unique opportunity in audio drama to partner with your listener. What you want to do is…you want to give them just a little taste of the visual, just enough of an evocative feeling so that they’ll auto-fill the rest of it with their brains, because they are your partner. It’s not that there aren’t visuals in audio drama. There are, they just take place in the mind of your listeners.
-Mac Rogers (writer The Message, LifeAfter; writer/producer Steal The Stars, The Honeycomb Trilogy) at AFF 2017
6. TRY, FAIL, AND TRY AGAIN
There’s lots of things that you can’t do, but the great thing is those are just the things that haven’t worked yet, and we’re still evolving and there’s still new things to try…don’t be scared. Do something weird and different and see if it works, because we don’t know. We don’t know what the limit is to this thing.
-Zack Akers (writer/director Limetown; producer 36 Questions) at AFF 2017
Have a fiction podcast script you’d like to submit, or a screenplay/teleplay you’re considering adapting for the audio world? AFF’s Fiction Podcast Script Competition will be accepting submissions through July 5, 2019.
Advancing writers will have access to exclusive panels, workshops, roundtables, and unique networking opportunities with professional podcasters making a living in the world of audio fiction and writers who have used the medium to break into film and television. To submit your work for consideration, click here.
Visit onstory.tv for a closer look inside the creative process from today’s leading writers and creators.