From visual to audio- a newbies introduction to audio drama

I’ve said before that stuff happens when a group of writers sit down and start tossing ideas at each other. A few of the more ingesting ones in the past year or so have been Cthulhurotica from Dagan Books, Genius Loki (Kickstarter coming soon!) and Space Marine Gerbils.  There’s something about being around another creative that sparks an explosive jump and lands  you with ideas you’ve never considered before.

I have a good friend, Junely, that writes audio drama. We were talking about new projects when she was discussing superhero stories. She was going to try a comedic approach when I wondered what a superhero/horror mashup would look like. Ideas started flying and before I knew it, I had agreed to co-write an audio drama.

I’ve listened to audio dramas before. There were a few still on the radio when I was little and I’d catch a few fragments. But for the most part they faded away into obscurity in my world. It wasn’t until last year that I started listening to them again. A friend pointed me to some of the old radio dramas online and I started listening to them while I worked.

A radio drama isn’t like listening to a book being read to you. (which I adore if it’s a good voice actor) And it definitely isn’t like a movie where sound and vision influence the watcher’s perception.  Instead, it’s a story told using auditory clues and dialog that allows listeners to fill in the story as they see fit.  That’s a bit of a complicated answer so I’ll give you an example.

In a book, the author will state that a character is walking down a hallway and often gives you clues as to where. Usually the reader will know who is walking and where.

In a movie, you will see the character walking down the hallway. You can see all of this information on the screen.

In an audio drama you will hear footsteps. You won’t know who or what is walking or even where they are walking unless you hear a voice, or the narrator tells you who it is and what they are doing.

While books and movies might seem very different in this context, they are strikingly similar in one way: Vision.  It’s easy to see that movies fall right into this category, but it’s easy to dismiss reading as a visual art. But wait, let me explain.

Writing a story very nearly requires the author to build up a setting, character and plot as the foundation of the story. While a good author uses other senses such as sound, scent and touch, the main focus is often sight. An author describes the characters, their actions and how the world reacts to the choices they make. Most of which is visual.

That’s something that I’ve been learning over the past couple of weeks. How much authors rely on the sense of vision to write stories. Of course there’s dialog and sounds, but the focus sense of most writers is visual. Switching gear to a purely auditory format has been a challenge.

I’m a visual artist.  Just take a look at my beadwork, paintings or fiber art. (yes I really did post a link to my rarely used DA page there) I focus on color, shape and form over any other sense. The stuff I make relies heavily on visual clues.

As a writer I also focus on visual clues. Just read “The Coin Whisperer”, “Ordinary Hero” or “The Fadeaway” to see what I mean. Yes there are other senses including sound but the stories are still visually focused.

Switching gears is difficult at least at first. First of all there’s a whole new format to learn. You don’t use paragraphs and you rely heavily on dialog.  Sounds are notified by SFX tags but you can get quite creative with that. You can even designate actions with specific sounds–in our case the use of magic. Another thing to worry about is the emotions that show through the dialog. Anger, surprise, tiredness not only gives you emotions, but gives you the mental state of the characters you are listening to.

The biggest change is how to write this. When I write a story I “see” the story in my head. There’s a mental visual clue to what’s going on. I might not catch every detail, but I do know most of it.

But with an audio drama I have to stop, and “listen” to what’s going on.  Then I have to figure out how that translates into the audio format. Oh and unless there’s a reason, the characters aren’t described very much. You as the listener get to fit what ever skin on the characters you want.

After last night it’s become easier. I still have to think about it. Instead of  “character x walked down the hall” I have to stop, type out the SFX tags and figure out what the character is saying to indicate that there’s just not a pair of phantom shoes prancing around.

Two more scenes and we’ll have episode 1 finished.  At least the first draft. We’ll have to go back and polish and tweak before we send it off to Gwen at Gypsy Audio.  She’s only had hints of what we are doing. I hope she likes it.

I hope you will too as possibly in the next few months I’ll get to announce where you can listen to this at.


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