In the Land of the Blind- Clarity is King

Something I keep coming back to in my discussions with others about writing and producing audio drama is the issue of clarity. To me, the first commandment of producing audio drama is “thou shalt not confuse thy audience”, because in a form like this that’s 100% reliant on the listener’s imagination it’s really easy to lose them, and a lost audience tunes out in more ways than one.

How do you lose an audience? Let me count the ways.

  • Too many characters.
  • Too many characters that sound the same.
  • Sudden scene shifts with no indicators.
  • Lots of action with no points of reference as to what’s happening.
  • Over-reliance on sound effects.
  • Forgetting that sound effects are not universal (A police siren in Europe sounds different from a police siren in Japan, which sounds different from one in Canada.)
  • Poor use of sound effects.
  • Confusing storylines.
  • Forgetting that not everyone has seen the same shows/read the same books/listened to the same music/etc that you have.
  • Too much reliance on in-jokes- personal or cultural.
  • Forgetting that Anime/Kung Fu Movies/Star Trek/Geekdom/Etc. are subcultures, and so ideas common within them often aren’t known or understood by the general public. (Go ask your mother what a Naruto Yuri Nekomimi Doujinshi is, or how a Klingon War Poem sounds.)
  • Forgetting who your audience is, or worse, not knowing who your audience is!

There’s more, but I think that list wll do for now. Any of these things can completely kill an audio drama for the listener, especially a casual listener who has no real reason to stay or continue listening if they’re bored or confused by what they hear.

What’s the solution? That’s the easy part, ironically enough. It’s to know your form (what can audio do and what can’t it do?), know your audience, and know what you have to say to most efficiently convey what you want them to get from your show. Often that means minimal cast, careful use of sound effects, sometimes narration or explository speech, and a clear focussed story that knows where it’s going and takes the best possible path to get there.

Rob