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Reply To: February is audio month~!

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Rebecca Scoble

To clarify about Awake–the original idea was invented as a comic, but we didn’t get very far into development before deciding to make it an audio drama. We didn’t really have any visuals in place before we switched gears to audio mode (it was basically a pitch we were making to another artist, who preferred one of the other ideas we went to her with), and I’m honestly not sure how the story would’ve played out if we’d developed it more as a comic. The talking computer was a decision that was driven by the audio format, and the scenes would’ve probably been broken up differently in a comic, but other than that I can’t really say.

Every medium has its strengths and weaknesses–there’s nothing inherently more difficult about writing for audio than any other medium other than the fact that fewer people are used to it. Finding a way to seamlessly explain your world and premise without infodumping is a problem in EVERY medium, and the solution is always the same–figure out what needs to be explained right away and what can wait until later, come up with clever or subtle ways for your characters to mention worldbuilding details while they move the plot forward, plant seeds early on so important ideas don’t feel like they’re coming out of nowhere, simplify what you can, and make full use of unspoken communication to establish your setting (in this case, sound effects). If you really can’t pull that off for some important background info, then just do a little controlled infodumping. Audio dramas that use inner monologue or narration can use it to explain background info quickly, or you can leave it for the wise/experienced character to explain to the newbie–it’s not the most elegant solution, but a few infodump-y paragraphs certainly won’t ruin an otherwise strong story. Just keep in mind that this should be a technique that keeps your story moving forward faster, not one that slows things down–the point is to get the necessary background out there so the plot can move forward, not bog it down in confusing details.

Also, remember that you’re not just losing a way to express your story, you’re also gaining one. A lot of the things you’d be getting across in a comic’s visuals can be expressed with acting and sound effects. For example–let’s say one of your characters is very shy and introverted. In a comic, you might design her to wear her hair over her face, to wear baggy, form-hiding clothes, to stand hunched over with her arms crossed, to get an uncomfortable or embarrassed look on her face when she’s put on the spot. In audio, a voice actor can get all of that across through hesitation, mumbling, sighs and other vocalized sounds, speaking quietly and trailing off–etc.

Similarly, lots of common actions are really audibly distinctive–running or walking on different surfaces, eating, crying and laughing, opening and closing doors, rummaging through a bag or a drawer, using a phone, typing and writing, tripping or falling, getting dressed or undressed, using common items like cash registers or vending machines, water and fire, body sounds like coughing or stomach growling, insects and animals–this list could go on forever. And uncommon actions–like, say, causing an error on a futuristic semi-sentient computer, or doing maintenance on cryogenic pods–can be set up in audio through repetition of particular sounds that will need less explanation the more they’re used. Remember, the visuals in comics aren’t actually the most important part–no matter how beautiful or impressive they are, they’re still a means to an end, one way of expressing an idea. If you try to express the way things look in audio, you’ll fail. But if you focus on the actual idea you were trying to get across with visuals, and figure out the best way to express that idea through sound, you can tell almost any story well.

I’m really starting to regret any time I told people that their story wasn’t suited to audio. I don’t want people thinking that audio dramas are a narrow, limited medium that can only handle stories about people sitting around and talking, because that’s not true at all. The problem isn’t that the stories couldn’t be done in audio, it’s that the writer used a concept better suited to another medium and didn’t adapt it well enough–just took an idea like visually stunning magic battles or long, typed forum conversations and stuck it into an audio script without thinking through the best way to make it work audibly.

Okay! I really hope my long, LONG, tirades aren’t scaring people off. This is probably awful, cruel advice to give at this point, but…don’t overthink it. Just tell me the best story you can–if you can get me excited about your story, the whole team will find a way to make it work, together.