Writing for Audio

Theatrical audio programming (scripted content) is an exciting and distinctive medium with its own technical quirks and creative opportunities; that's why when writing for audio, it's essential to keep in mind its unique characteristics. Unlike film, TV, or the stage, it's (obviously) not a visual medium. There's an aural language to learn - narrative in this form is fueled by dialogue, sound effects, music, and, counter-intuitively, silence. One approach to working on an audio script might be writing as if you're creating for the visually-impaired. 

There are three golden rules for audio scripting - clarity, clarity and clarity!  We take many elements for granted in writing for visual media: we know who is speaking and where they are because we see it - and because of stage direction or cinematic framing. But as the audio audience can only listen, it's easy for them to become confused by a lack of these most basic cues. And if we lose them for a moment or two, then we could lose them for the entire piece.

Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when writing an audio script, no matter what the genre:

  • Use your imagination - any genre is viable for this medium: drama, comedy, erotica, romance, science fiction, westerns, soap opera, fantasy
  • Rethink your concept if it's based on a visual idea (or come up with its sonic equivalent)
  • Determine the length of your piece based on the needs of your story - short-form, long-form, somewhere in the middle, it's all good
  • Clarify which character is speaking and where they are at any given moment
  • Know that overlapping dialogue can be very effective if used properly
  • Remember that characters can just as easily tell the audience what's happening as can a narrator
  • Incorporate character names in dialogue when possible
  • Think about using non-linear time, flashbacks etc. These techniques are not forbidden!
  • Create sound effects (SFX) for clarity, ambiance, and emphasis but avoid them if the audience can’t tell what they are
  • Use SFX as effective symbols and metaphors (but again, don't over do it) and follow the “Goldilocks” principle: not too much, not too little
  • Use music as an effective tool for mood and transitions - as well themes for opens and closes
  • Break some rules, push some envelopes, but above all, remember you are telling a story

(If you’d like to read more about audio theater, check this out: http://www.arthuryorinks.com/a-new-theater-of-sound/ )