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February is audio month~!

Home Forums Sparkler Monthly Public Forums Everything else February is audio month~!

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  • #3218
    Rebecca Scoble
    Keymaster

    EDIT: The deadline for audio drama pitches has been moved back to Sunday, March 9th.

    Rebecca here, head of the audio department at Sparkler. I’m posting here because audio drama script submissions are open for the entire month of February!

    [Note: you need to be a Sparkler member to post on this forum. You can sign up for a free membership here.]

    I know there aren’t many people who are used to working in this format, so I wanted to open up a thread for anyone to ask questions.

    First, submission basics: be sure to check out our Submissions page, and the Submissions guidelines document, for all the technical specs about what we’re looking for. Ignore the old dates on the submissions doc, and we’re a little more flexible on chapter length than it says in the document, but all the other info is accurate.

    Second, there are five chapters of our first audio drama Awake up on the site–and they stream for free. Listen to chapter 1 here, and take a look at the script here. If you’re looking for an example script, or a guide to how much content can fit in one chapter of audio, or just an idea of what we can do with the format, check out Awake.

    Third, ask questions on this thread! I’m going to be responding to questions about audio scripts here all month, so ask me anything!

    Fourth, I am willing to look at up to three mini-pitches per person before you actually send your pitch, and give you a quick review about whether I think they’re promising or not (a mini-pitch is basically an elevator pitch–a short paragraph that explains and sells your story). Please be sure to mention the tone and genre of your story (e.g. dark, gritty fantasy, satirical modern-day comedy, lighthearted historical romance) and include a few words about the personalities of your most important characters. You can either post in this thread, or if you’d rather submit them privately, you can email them to audio (at) chromaticpress.com.

    I’m going to write a post later this week that addresses some more specific issues that keep coming up–types of stories that do or do not work for Sparkler and story elements that work well or poorly in audio–just to get people’s brains moving.

    I hope that any of you who are on the fence about pitching an audio script will give it a try!

    #3222
    abillyhiggins
    Participant

    Wow, thank you so much for starting this thread! I wanted to submit, but was wondering if I was on the right track or not. What perfect timing!

    Here’s my pitch:

    Night Owls is a mood — the hushed yet momentous feeling that strikes when you’re having a one-one-one conversation at three in the morning. It features the philosophical ramblings of an A-student named Charlie, who’s watching her life crumble before her eyes. As well, it features those of a drunk, insomnia-ridden FtM trans man named Louis whose life crumbled when he was just a kid. The hope is to chart the development of Louis and Charlie over the course of four conversations, as Louis looks for his estranged mother, and Charlie deals with a dead mother and loss of purpose. It’s a slice-of-life college drama, broken up into four distinct chapters, each roughly 22 minutes long. Each of these chapters will revolve around one night’s conversation — each night taking place roughly two weeks after the last one.

    #3223
    Rebecca Scoble
    Keymaster

    Hi abillyhiggins–thank you for your interest in pitching an audio script!

    To be totally honest, I have some serious reservations about your pitch. Slice of life is a tricky genre, and as someone who’s heard the philosophical ramblings of undergrads plenty of times before, they would have to be pretty unusual and done with a ton of self-awareness to make an entertaining story. It seems like you’ve put thought into your characters, which is a good start, but simply developing two characters isn’t enough of a story for us.

    As a company, we’ve had a little trouble expressing exactly what we’re looking for since we don’t want to restrict ourselves to one genre, but a big part of it is this: emotional impact and forward momentum. Or, to put it more simply, we want stories where interesting stuff keeps happening, presented in a way that makes people care, a lot. So: really bad things happening to characters they love, really good things happening to characters they love. Plot twists and cliffhangers. Complex characters with unexpected motivations. Romance, intrigue, humor, drama. A lot of our stories feel a little pulpy, and that’s a feature, not a bug–pulpiness is fun, and if you do it right, it doesn’t stop your work from being smart, being progressive, or saying something meaningful.

    Your description actually reminds me a little of one of my favorite comics, The Less than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal (comic is rated 18+). TJ and Amal is an example of the kind of slice of life story we’d definitely want to publish–like your story, it stars two characters, one whose life has been kind of a mess for a long time, and one whose life just fell apart. But the road trip framework gives the story forward momentum and keeps it on track–the loosely connected things that keep happening to the two main characters build their individual development, and their relationship to each other, with subtlety and humor. It’s full of highs and lows–hilarious conversations take dark turns, Amal’s perception of TJ changes multiple times as new information about him is revealed, the guys’ moods swing from surly to cheerful, or from playful to serious, in a really organic way. The main characters are completely lovable and relatable from about ten pages in. It’s also a romance, with all the extra complication that implies–not that your story needs romance to be interesting, but it’s one way to add some drama. If you think your story can create that kind of momentum and emotional impact, I’d be happy to read it. If not, though, you may want to consider another story.

    And this is not directed specifically at you, but you give me a good opportunity to bring it up for everyone: if you’re a cis person and want to write transgender characters, make sure you do your research. This is good advice for anyone writing outside their own experiences, but I want to stress it here because in a lot of the media I’ve seen with transgender characters, the issues they have to deal with get simplified to fairly basic identity acceptance or generic overcoming prejudice narratives. There are a bunch of very real legal, medical, societal and romantic problems specific to trans*people, a lot of which wouldn’t even occur to the average cis person. That’s been my own experience, for sure–reading blogs and articles written by actual transgender people, instead of work filtered through a cis perspective, is eye-opening.

    #3224
    abillyhiggins
    Participant

    Thank you so much for your quick and informative response!

    I was curious what your opinion was on slice of life, since I saw that “drama” was one of the genres you were most interested in, and was wondering what definition of drama was being used. I appreciate your clarification of that, as well as your summation of a good Sparkler submission as featuring “really bad things happening to characters they love, really good things happening to characters they love.” That’s a helpful phrase and one which I will keep in mind as I try and put together another pitch.

    “TJ and Amal” has an interesting opening. I’ll have to add that to my to-read list.

    I agree that research is so important when dealing with trans* characters/narratives. The trans* world definitely needs more representation, but that representation needs to be fueled by a truth — and there are a number of truths which wouldn’t be readily apparent to a cis person who hasn’t read up on the subject (and even a cis person who has read up on the subject can still be subject to the vagaries of writing about a topic they haven’t personally experienced).

    Thank you so much for your time, and I hope you get a bunch of great pitches!

    #3322
    sora1027
    Participant

    What sorts of genres work well for audio? Are there some genres to avoid altogether? Are there any genres or topics that the staff at Sparkler are just dying to see come into their inboxes? Also it was mentioned that Awake was originally made to be a comic, but it also made for a great audio drama. Can you talk about the process of converting something that is visual to audio or if it can even be done without being clunky or containing a lot of clunky exposition (i.e. infodumping)

    #3324
    Rebecca Scoble
    Keymaster

    Hey Najela! You ask a couple big questions, so I’m going to address them one at a time. I’d actually already written 3/4 of this list of things to avoid when you wrote your post, so I’m posting this part first.

    I’ve written out some general guidelines for things to avoid, both for Sparkler in general, and for audio in particular. I don’t like being really specific about genre because we’ve always wanted to have a variety of genres represented in Sparkler, but there are a few types of stories that just never seem to fit in with what we’re looking for, and a few more that take some outside-the-box thinking to work.

    Genre and storytelling:

    -Avoid writing episodic sitcoms. We want cliffhangers and characters who grow and change over the course of the story.
    -Gag humor doesn’t work for us very often. We usually prefer more character-based humor.
    -The audio department in particular isn’t looking for anything set in or based off the golden age of radio. Of the small number of English-language audio dramas out there, a large proportion of them are throwbacks to old-time radio shows, so that ground has already been covered by people who know the style better than I do. An extremely good story might convince me otherwise, but you’ll have to really impress me.
    -Avoid stories that feel too young. We aren’t a YA publisher. We’re open to stories about teenagers, but plots and characters that feel like they’re stuck in high school, dealing with very teen-specific problems, don’t work for us. Check out our series Tokyo Demons and Off*Beat for examples of stories about teenagers that we really like–both stories star unusual teens whose problems go beyond the average high school hijinks.
    -Horror isn’t our favorite genre. To be clear, having horror elements in your story is fine (gore, scary situations, supernaturally evil villains, etc). But stories where the reader/listener’s main emotional reaction is supposed to be fear or disgust don’t fit in well with our lineup.

    Audio-specific issues:

    -Be very careful if you include a lot of text-based communication in your audio story. The way people communicate via text message, internet forum, email, etc. is very different from the way people speak to each other. If you do want to make that kind of communication a major part of your story, think hard about the best way to present it in audio.
    -Any kind of cinematic fighting falls flat in audio, since you can’t see what’s happening. A quick and dirty scuffle can work well, but verbal arguments will always be the most effective type of conflict. If you really want to do something high powered, try to think of an audible way to make it work–maybe a system of spoken magic spells with particular sound cues that tell you what kind of spell it is? Your ideas don’t need to be perfect off the bat, but you need to acknowledge any part of your story that needs special consideration from an audio perspective and try to come up with a way to deal with tricky story elements.
    -On an ideological level, I want to create good acting jobs for women. Writing stories with male leads is fine (there’s clearly a lot of interest in male/male love stories with our audience, after all), but even if you’re writing a story that focuses on male characters, I’m going to insist on at least a few meaty roles for women in any story we produce.
    -Think about scale! Limit your number of characters and settings, the same way you would in a play or movie. The same goes for any music-related plot points–hiring a few musicians is doable, but an entire orchestra isn’t. At the same time, though, don’t be afraid to write more than just people sitting and talking. Through creative editing and sound effects, we can make almost anything work–it’s just that stories that focus too heavily on audio-unfriendly plot points stop being worth it. I know this is a pretty confusing idea for people who’ve never worked in audio before, so feel free to ask specific questions about what will and won’t work in this thread.

    Now that I’ve focused (too much?) on the negatives, I’m going to do another post about positives–things we want to see more of–later tonight.

    #3349
    Rebecca Scoble
    Keymaster

    Okay, now that we’ve got all the pessimistic stuff out of the way, I’m back to talk about things we DO want to see!

    This is trickier, because the question “what makes a good story” is way too big for a simple blog post, and that’s really what we’re looking for in the end–good stories. Every story we’ve considered publishing has, at minimum, one really innovative element, or one really well executed element. There’s always some aspect that raises it above the average, but what that element is varies greatly from story to story.

    One thing we’ve mentioned before is that we want stories that evoke a strong emotional reaction. We’ve tried dressing this up in fancy terminology so we don’t sound super dumb about it, but what we’re really looking for is FEELS. And, like I mentioned in one of my first responses, the best way to add feels to your story is to write lovable characters, and then make terrible–and occasionally wonderful–things happen to them. Beat up on your characters in whatever way makes sense in the story you’re telling, withhold whatever it is they want for as long as you can before you give it to them. Even in a gentle modern-day romance, the stakes should feel high to the characters.

    In more specific terms, there isn’t that much I can think of. I’d like the next audio project to contrast with Awake in some way–but Awake’s a pretty weird little story, so pitch something other than a sci-fi bottle drama, I guess? Similarly, don’t do anything that’s too close to any of our currently running series. Comedy would be great, romance would be great. An urban fantasy or dystopian story (with fairly simple, subtle worldbuilding) could be interesting. A well-constructed mystery might work really well in audio, or a fantasy story centered around a small, tight-knit group on a mission. But, to be totally honest, outside the list of don’ts I wrote before, I don’t have a preference for genre. Do what you think you can pull off best–the genre you’re most comfortable in, one where you have a good handle on the usual tropes and can use or subvert them in a way that doesn’t feel forced.

    #3351
    Rebecca Scoble
    Keymaster

    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.

    #3386
    sora1027
    Participant

    Thanks so much for your advice. On average how many episodes will there be for audio dramas? I have to give credit to my friend Usagi who gave me the idea. Think of it as Ouran High School set in a college in America. The story is somewhat darker than what’s presented here, but I just wanted to give a taste. And I’m aware that Daisuke is typically used as a boy’s name, but as with most of my placeholder names, it just stuck. As I was thinking about this, it may or may not work for an audio drama, but hopefully the idea is there and with some further tweaking it could work. Here is the pitch:

    A.C.E.S.
    Daisuke, a smart, yet socially awkward creative writing student, receives a full ride scholarship to the school of her dreams. When her overprotective parents sabotage her dreams by hiding her acceptance letter and financial aid award, Daisuke loses her scholarship and is forced to attend Arts College, the local junior college. Daisuke is determined to make it on her own after her parents’ betrayal but finds that she knows nothing about the “real world” and how it works.

    Arisa, an infamous socialite and former reality show star, is left with nothing after the cancellation of her family’s reality show. Determined to get a fresh start and get back on track, Arisa enrolls at Arts College to major in journalism. A closeted anime and manga nerd, Arisa gets an idea to start her own host club from the manga Doki Doki!!! Host in Love!!

    Daisuke and Arisa are thrown together as roommates, but when various personal problems threaten to jeopardize their school funding, Daisuke reluctantly teams up with Arisa to start a host club. At first, auditions go terribly. Since host clubs aren’t well known in America, Arisa decides to call the club the Arts College Escort Service (A.C.E.S.) to attract a wider clientele. Arisa has already had tryouts and narrowed the group down to a few guys chosen only for their looks, not their personalities. Kouji is chosen as the strong and silent type. Celebrity twins, Jet and Rocket are the ‘little devil’ type. Ian is the cool type, and Saito is the Prince. These are hardly their natural personalities though.

    Unbeknownst to Daisuke, Arisa’s put Daisuke’s virginity up for grabs, claiming that who can ever bed the girl first can win the ‘consulting fee’, a percentage of every sale that is being used in this bet. Needless to say, this makes the A.C.E.S. and Daisuke very popular. However, the first few months fail epically. Seeing this, Daisuke restructures the group and lets the guys be themselves. Daisuke adds herself to the roster as the Nerd Girl type, going with guys as their “girlfriends” cosplaying and going to different conventions. Hijinks ensue.

    #3393
    Rebecca Scoble
    Keymaster

    Hey Najela,

    I really don’t think this story is going to work for us. The premise and character archetypes are so clearly based off Ouran Host Club that, even if the plot plays out pretty differently, comparisons are inevitable. And the plot point about Daisuke’s virginity makes your entire cast besides Daisuke unsympathetic in a way that would be very difficult to redeem them from. I think you’re headed in the wrong direction with this pitch, but I’d be happy to read another one if you’ve got more ideas.

    #3400
    A M. Funk
    Participant

    To get another genre of English language audio drama: Once upon a time, BBC Radio did adaptations of the “Death of Superman” and “Knightfall” story lines from Superman and Batman, respectively. If you’re a more visually oriented person like me, I think they’d be worth looking (listening?) into to get an idea of how to go about adapting stories (already in print or just in your head) from one format to another–and they take a lot of the points and advice Rebecca brings up to heart.

    I know Knightfall is on iTunes where you can get a brief listen with the preview if anyone wants to check it out.

    #3401
    sora1027
    Participant

    Hey Rebecca,
    Thanks for the feedback. It definitely gave me somethings to think about as far as making the story more original and less dark. Pitching is always a fun and enlightening experience. Excluding the problems with plot and characters, would a story of this type work in an audio format? How many episodes will most audio dramas have? Thank you once again.

    #3403
    Lianne Sentar
    Keymaster

    What a great suggestion, A.M. Funk! Thank you!

    Najela: I think that kind of story would be fine in audio, we just aren’t interested in the premise. That stuff about betting on someone else’s V-card is also inappropriate for our magazine (not in terms of “too adult,” but “too non-con”).

    Right now, we’re especially interested in audio dramas that would be 4-8 chapters long, 15-25 minutes each. Approx 1 page of script is 1 minute of audio. You can use Awake and its transcripts as guidance.

    Pitching’s fun, but I should probably warn everybody now about the trap of the elevator pitch: it’s easy to get sidetracked by thinking up a million premises and how to market each, but we don’t need anything super complicated or jaw-dropping. We just want fun stories with some depth and originality, and a little spark to get people to try it. Think of the stories we have on Sparkler now – most of the premises are relatively simple. “Boy stalks his next-door neighbor.” “Girl is haunted by ghosts.” “Girl gets stuck in a labyrinth.” All of those premises have that spark – it’s not just about some random person living a random life, because there’s an interesting twist in each of their lives – and the creators spent all their time building really great stories and characters under those accessible, interesting ideas. A lot of the stories we’re running now were “old” ideas the creators had been mulling for years, and now we’ve helped them put it together and publish it. That raw passion is what we want. It’s easy to get so focused on marketing or pleasing your publisher that you stop putting your heart into your work.

    In short – think of a premise that YOU care about, and you know you could put your heart into, because that’s the stuff we publish. And then give it just enough of a spark that someone other than you would pick it up. :)

    #3404
    sora1027
    Participant

    Understandable, taking that aspect out did change the story quite a bit. Not sure why that was there in the first place. At any rate, I’ll think on some more ideas.
    It’s easy to get so focused on marketing or pleasing your publisher that you stop putting your heart into your work. I agree, this is what stopped me from pitching somethings before. I got freaked out with trying to make everything perfect that I froze and didn’t end up doing anything. I’m glad for these mini pitching sessions, they certainly easy that fear of getting one shot to make it or break it, so to speak.

    #3460
    Neila
    Participant

    I really should submit something and use the skills I learned in that TV/Radio copywriting class…

    Are y’all looking for about 20 minute episodes? I also noticed that between your audio dramas you have some with more detailed setting descriptions while others have more sound effects for setting. Which do you guys prefer?

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