Who do you write to?

There’s a thread going on over on the Audio Drama Talk forums about “Breaking out”- that is, finding a larger audience with audio drama. The thread starter seems primarily concerned with audience, and trying to improve your show by interacting with your audience. Here’s my own reply to the topic…

I guess the question then becomes- which audience do you listen to?

Let me give you an example- over on the Voice Acting Alliance website the audience there are mostly teens and in their early 20’s. They have a finished projects section, and people put their audio dramas in that section to be viewed and commented upon like anyplace else. If you put something anime/fan/video game related into that section your hits will instantly skyrocket as they trip over themselves to check it out. If you put something more traditional or original in that section that doesn’t meet those criteria it will generally sit there unless you’re a forum celebrity and then it will also jump up.

Pendant stuff, Darker Projects stuff, it doesn’t matter- the kids will turn up their noses at it and ignore it no matter how well produced it is.

However, if you were to take the stuff they trip over themselves over and put it on this forum it would sit here like Pendant or DP stuff does there. Different audience, different tastes.

One of the good/bad things about the internet is that it’s allowed people with diverse tastes to find each other and form communities around their tastes of choice. (Just like this one.) This is good because it does allow people like you and I to talk and discuss things we might never otherwise be able to discuss. (Such as this very topic.) It’s bad because it’s also made everyone specialists into their own thing who rarely pop their heads up to look at what’s around them anymore. Even on this very board, there are probably sub-groups who only frequent certain sub-forums and pretty much ignore the others.

So if I make a show now- who do I write to? Someone might say “write to a general audience”. But what is a general audience now? Can anyone tell me? Is a general audience those kids on the VAA? Is a general audience sci-fi fans over on their forum of choice who just want more of their favorite show? Is it the housewives in the knitting forum? The farmers on the Agriculture Today message boards?

Tell me, because I honestly don’t know.

So I produce my shows for myself based on what I think a good show should be and try to advertise to a wide audience in hopes that the people who would like it will have a chance to find it. I try to write for (theoretical) people who would like the things I do and hope that there’s enough of them out there to count as “an audience” by whatever my personal standards are.

So far, I seem to be doing pretty well and my audience is growing monthly so I’m happy with it. (Oddly enough, since these forums came I’ve noticed a real spike in my numbers! Thanks again Crash!) It’s not 20,000 a month or anything, but it is enough to keep me producing and know that I do have an active (if diverse) audience of people who enjoy my work.

Self-Publishing through Lulu.com

I’ve just spent the afternoon reading through Lulu.com and I have to say it’s quite an interesting setup they’ve got there. Not only do they function as a online printing shop where you can make your own products (Books, CDs, Calendars, etc) they also function as a full publisher for your works as both a Print on Demand service and for an extra fee (basic publishing is free to the creator) they’ll even get you listed on Amazon.com and other online bookstores with a full registered ISBN number and all.

As I work through my options on how to distribute Little Gou and the Crocodile Princess (on Chapter 10 now, woohoo!) Lulu.com is definitely starting to figure into my plans. I know I will distribute it free as a podcast audiobook, but I’ve been debating on how to distribute the print version. Part of me wants to just consider the whole book a promo and give it away for free text and all as a way of building my reputation as an author. Another part however, thinks that I should make some effort to make a modest profit from my labors and just release the podcast and part of the text for free with the rest up for sale through Lulu.com. (And probably, if going this route, through Amazon.com as well! $100 for a book that can sit as being available for decades isn’t bad.)

Options…options…

Chorus versus Staging

There generally seem to be two approaches to presenting audio drama- a staged approach and a chorus approach.

A staged approach is exactly like a stage play, TV show or movie- the action is set within a particular environment and is about the events that occur at that place and time. An example of this would be two people sitting on a park bench talking. The listener would probably be able to hear the sounds of the park, might hear footsteps walking past, and could even hear the participants moving around. This would all be there to set a sense of place and time for the audience, and even without this sonic backdrop the characters themselves might make reference to the park and it’s surroundings as they talk, making it clear to the audience where and when these events take place.

A chorus approach is quite different, in the chorus approach the sense of time and place is fluid and sometimes even just plain ignored. There aren’t any scenes as the dialogue and story flow from one point to the next without focusing on a single time and place long enough to really set much of a stage. This is a form that’s unique to audio drama because it’s very difficult to do this in visual mediums like TV or movies- the best way to think of this is like a controlled dream where the listener is being pulled along on a roller-coaster of sound and events. An example of this would be a story told in the form of letters, news clips and pieces of dialogue, or perhaps a single narrator telling a personal tale with other voices chiming in during the parts when other characters enter the story. Time and place is of minimal importance- what’s important is the story itself.

Both approaches have their place- I use the staged approach almost exclusively for my own work because I tend to keep things very simple and structured. That said, I have heard some chorus work that was simply amazing (check out Mercury Theatre On the Air‘s Dracula for an example of this.) and often actually envy writers who can pull off the chorus approach well. To me it’s just not that easy since I tend to think in staged terms because of my long exposure to TV and movies. Maybe someday I’ll write some chorus stuff to try and see how I can make it work. Orson Welles made amazing use of the Chorus approach to bring huge stories down to simple 1-hour or less narratives, and perhaps it works best that way. Something to think about.

Speaking in Tongues

A post I recently put up on the Audio Drama Talk forums on the subject of having characters in audio dramas speak in archaic ways to represent the setting of the story:

People have always used slang, and will always use it, so I see nothing wrong with putting characters speaking ancient (or non-English) tongues in modern English. The way I look at it is that the characters are speaking the equivalent way they would in their setting for who they are. So a nobleman speaks proper English, a streetkid speaks in a slangy way, etc. To me when listening to a period (or fantasy) piece, it’s about how the characters act that’s important.

Xena’s cast wasn’t annoying to me because they spoke modern English, it was annoying to me because they had 100% modern attitudes to go with that English. The language they used was fine, the way they used it was the problem.

I had to deal with this when I started to do my Little Gou adventures, and think how I was going to represent a bunch of people speaking Chinese (Chinese dialects even, not even proper Mandarin!) in English. I quickly gave up trying to simulate their language in any way, beyond peppering in a few key words and transliterated phrases, and stuck with making the rest of the details fit instead. It just wasn’t worth trying to confuse my audience for any kind of accuracy.

Podcast Canadian Audiobook wins Real Award.

The Best Laid Plans, a satire about Canadian politics just won the prestigious Steve Leacock award here in Canada, which might not be that important except for 2 points:

1) It was a self-published book.

2) The author also podcast the book for free as an audiobook to build his audience.

Does this mean there’s hope for those who use this technique to get our work out there? I’m not sure, especially considering the poor author mentions he still hasn’t managed to get a major publisher to touch his work in an interview. But, it’s darn inspiring and I wish him hearty congratulations!

Rob

Shifting Viewpoints

I just finished Chapter Six of Crocodile Princess out of a planned 26 or so Chapters. It looks like I might be writing mostly about book writing in this blog for a while, but we’ll see. I’m sure I’ll still touch on audio drama writing from time to time. In effect at the moment my Audio Drama writing is on hold while I focus on trying to crank out the novel as quick as I can. I want to get it done before real life interferes with writing, which should hit about the end of this month. If I can write roughly a chapter a day I can meet my goal, but we’ll see how things work out.

One interesting shift I’m having to make in novel writing is in the perspective department. In the Little Gou audio dramas I’ve been doing I’ve generally kept to the perspective of Little Gou- very little of what happens in them is outside of what Little Gou himself sees or hears. I do this mostly for simplicity and to make the story easier to follow, but I also enjoy working with a more limited viewpoint. (Even Twin Stars does this, very little in Twin Stars is outside the viewpoints of Tysen and Ping-An.)

With writing the novel I’m finding since the story is bigger I’m being drawn to cover more and more events outside of Little Gou’s viewpoint which is a bit of a change for me. For the most part the story still of course focusses on Little Gou and those with him, but as it goes on I find myself writing more things that occur outside his perspective and knowledge.

The other thing I’m finding myself dealing with while writing Crocodile Princess is trying to find my own writing style, as the writing style I’m using now is a mixmash of my own style combined with various authors I admire or have made a study of. In a single chapter there are sometimes subtle shifts in the way I present things depending on when I write it and what mood I’m in. For example, sometimes I dialogue out every word, but in other scenes I skip over unimportant dialogue with narration. Sometimes I as the writer make comments about the story, but other times it’s more detached and objective.

Most of this will be smoothed out during the editing process, of course, but it’s still interesting to see my own style shifting and evolving before my eyes as it develops.

Rob