Top tips on writing for audio drama
Writing and producing audio dramas to reach audiences was a natural development for Vanitas Arts, an idea born out of a need to reach and build our audiences and reinforce our position as a digital story telling company.
At the onset of the pandemic, we pivoted from planning a full-scale live immersive work, to considering how we could reach out to audiences in a different way, engage with them and offer new stories accessed through the pocket size technology that so many people routinely use – their phones, as well as desktop devices.
The podcast form
We arrived at the podcast form: downloads, streaming, drawing on the renaissance of audio drama as our medium to engage with audiences, as the world went into lockdown. The opportunity to write with a limitless freedom of expression remains with us as we recover and reach our audiences in other ways.
In developing audio drama, the questions we asked ourselves then and still ask now are - how can we tailor stories for listening that feel expansive and cinematic? That are relatable and contain characters that have complex needs and wants?
Using this starting point, we began crafting stories in audio for audiences who were ready to access cinematic worlds and characters, essentially without pictures; where we offer a unique and personal experience to each listener and give the widest scope to each person’s imagination, including us as writers. – knowing we need to tap into imaginations and evoke environments where audiences can create the pictures in their imaginations, using the tools of audio drama – voices, music, and sounds.
We draw on several principles in our work:
3 and 5-act dramas
Developing 3 and 5-act dramas in an economical way with the potential for chapters and breaks to enable the listener to pause and to pick up where they left off at their convenience.
Clear protagonists and antagonists
Developing protagonists and antagonists to drive the story along, following both establishing (the set up) and then the inciting incident (the thing that occurs where there is no going back from).
Establishing the essential components of action whilst keeping the number of characters to a minimum.
Every compelling audio drama needs to create a unique and personal picture in the mind of the listener. Creating story worlds full of atmospheric sounds help to paint the picture for audiences to ‘see’ as they listen is at the core of crafting powerful audio dramas.
Focussed and intimate writing
Keeping the writing lean and focussed and essentially intimate is important to us, as unlike live drama which people experience together in crowds, we are speaking directly to the listener, building a singular experience between the listener and their headphones/ear pods.
Allowing characters to develop and be identified through their distinct voices is key. We want our audiences to be able to identify each character in the story and connect to their journey; we know this isn’t always easy when asking voice actors to play several characters to stay economical and dialogue can make or break the story and the characters, so they have to be plausible and talented!
Telling untold stories
Researching and developing characters and telling stories of people who are often underrepresented in audio dramas.
Find out more
If you want to find out more about writing audio drama and would like to read more, a search online will highlight scripts from good radio plays and audio dramas across different genres and curated BBC Sounds offers streaming of its curated showcase dramas. All are available to listen to on the BBC Sounds App.
As we have continued to develop audio dramas as part of our digital storytelling practice, we have released 3 episodes from the audio drama carousel ‘Persons of Interest’ which reimagine a moment in the lives of prominent jazz artists who which explores prominent jazz artists who influenced the political and artistic landscape over the decades.