We are pleased to welcome back a special guest to Tuesday Serial today. Writer Brand Gamblin is among a group of innovative writers who pioneered the use of podcasting to expand the readership for their novels. He joined us last week with his post “What Podcasting Can Do For Your Web Serial.” If you missed it, you’ll want to go back and check it out now. Today, we feature the second in this two-part series aimed at helping writers adapt their web serials for audio. Be sure to post your comments and questions for Brand. Welcome back, Brand!
Writing like a Reader : How are Audio Serials Different?
by Brand Gamblin
“Writing for audio is a very different experience from standard novel writing,” the author said. Holding his hands behind his back, he began to pace before us with his haughty chest puffed out. He said, “Action must be described in detail, for one. A story that is written for audio is more closely tied, by it’s very nature, to a performance.” He brought one hand forward to wave lazily in the air, “When one writes primarily for the printed word, as is often the case in novel writing of any significant length or importance, one tends to create run-on sentences, as good ideas are examined completely over time.” He stopped, turned, and jabbed an accusing finger at us, “This is not the case with audio dramas and podiobooks. In those stories, the author pays careful attention to the performance and to those elements that make a story into an experience.”
I’ve been writing for most of my life, and getting paid for it for the last three years. In that time, I’ve written radio plays, screenplays, novels, short stories, and even the occasional blurb. It didn’t take long to recognize that different types of audiences would, by necessity, require different types of writing. I’ve podcasted two of my novels now as series fiction, and in both cases, the podcast resulted in a new editing pass to fix problems I’d noticed as I was recording. So what was it about recording the series that prompted all these changes?
For one thing, there were dialog tags. “He said” “She exclaimed” “They shouted”. I’ve heard from one school that dialog tags must be strictly and carefully used. Another says that the only appropriate dialog tag is “said”. However, after recording for a while, I came across a pattern that works for me. I can turn damn near any verb into a dialog tag as long as it follows a few simple rules.
The tag has to describe someone doing something other than talking.
– “Call the cops if you want,” he shrugged.
– The demon spit out, “Get thee behind me, priest!”
In both of these cases, the dialog tag is not “said”, but the dialog is still readable. I’ll explain why I hate “said” in a minute. The tag cannot describe something obvious or redundant.
– The old man warned them, “If you go near the barn, the evil will getcha!”
– “I’ve spoken to kings and emporers on the importance of such concerns. If one should examine the situation, my conclusions become obvious,” he pontificated.
So I have a tendancy to use whatever verb fits the sentence, but does not restate what is going on in the line. . . but why not just use “said”? What’s so bad about a one-size-fits-all dialog tag?
The answer comes when you look at a writer who does use “said” for every line of dialog. Have you ever heard someone use a word over and over again, so many times that it doesn’t even sound like a word anymore? It just sounds like some noise. That’s what happens to “said”. In some books, the rampant usage of “said” makes it little more than a symbol, a redundant open quotation mark.
When you have to sit and read out dialog, with two characters speaking back and forth, and each one has a “said” on their line, you get sick of it really fast. It doesn’t sound normal because it isn’t normal. So you end up doing what many authors do, which is cut up all dialog into a discussion between two people at a time, then drop all the dialog tags. Every new line is a response to the previous statement. Nice and neat.
However, if you have three people talking, and no dialog tags at all, it gets confusing fast. Which is why I’m a proponent of using other verbs as dialog tags.
Another reason for using “dialog verbs” is action. When you’re writing a deep, contemplative story, with tortured love triangles and devious plots within schemes, you’ve got time. You can spend paragraphs just letting one character think his situation through. You can even take time to have your protagonist think through all the consequences of all the possible decisions he could choose from.
However, if you’re writing a story for audio, there is the realization of a performance. Someone is going to have to read it out loud. There will be a storyteller, so you want to give them a story. When characters are talking, let them walk around, the way people normally do. Let them slouch and mutter. Let them look nervously around and wink surreptitiously to confidantes. You can tell story, describe character, and engage in dialog all at the same time.
If you’re writing for audio, you probably want to do that. You want action mixed in with your interaction. Every time I’ve written for audio, I’ve found problems where the story dragged at one place or another. I could feel it when I was reading, because even I was bored.
Nine times out of ten, when faced with those problems, I could make the story work just by combining simple action with my dialog. It made the characters seem more alive, it introduced subconcious communication that the listener could pick up more readily than the characters.
Audiobooks are almost never thought of when a story is written. Most writers have never considered the difference between the mediums. But if a writer embraces the differences between a performance and a text, if a writer engages action and reaction in their dialog tags, that writer could find a whole new type of story.
A very fun type of story.
Brand Gamblin was born to write video games. He got a degree in computer science and became a video game programmer right out of college. For the next decade, he published games for such companies as Microprose, Acclaim, and Firaxis. In his spare time, Brand created the YouTube video cult classic, “Calls For Cthulhu,” which has thousands of followers worldwide, and has been nominated for several film awards.
Recently, he has left game programming for a more creative venture, writing. Brand’s first book, “Tumbler”, was released as a podiobook in 2009, and then self-published in 2010. His second book was a steampunk retelling of George Orwell’s 1984. It was finished in 2010, and is still in production. In 2011, Brand published “The Hidden Institute” (podiobook, e-book), a futuristic story of re-gentrification. It has been called “Oliver Twist meets My Fair Lady, with a death penalty.”