On writing audio – Action sequences – by Julian Simpson

Writing for audio offers a similar relationship to the listener that I imagine a novelist has with the reader: it’s a partnership; you’re not letting people sit back and passively watch something, you are asking them to actively participate, to conjure images in their mind’s eye that are sparked by the sound cues you’re giving them. And because audio has, to an extent at least, fairly fixed costs, it is as easy to set an audio drama on Mars as it is to place it in contemporary Birmingham. So the canvas you have to work on is seemingly limitless, the story possibilities infinite.

Technique, though, has seemed for a while to have stagnated. Where cinema is a visual medium and we understand that the story is told with the image as much as it is with dialogue, too many audio dramas are little more than actors talking while sound effects provide a sonic backdrop that illustrates the dialogue. We hear the wind in the trees and some birds chirping and a character says “Here we are in the garden”. The writer doesn’t trust the audience, doesn’t trust the process, doesn’t trust sound.

“Sound design”, the clue is in the title. And yet most of the time it is little more than “pretty noises”.

I think I was lucky. My first ever radio commission came when producers Karen Rose and Lisa Osborne came to me with the idea of doing a ten-minute piece for Radio 4. The object of the exercise was to tell a story through sound. Not with it, but through it. I didn’t listen to audio drama, was only dimly aware of the medium. And I didn’t bother to educate myself, I just wrote something where visual storytelling was replaced by audio storytelling. It partly worked but, more importantly, it set the challenge…

Read on at: On writing audio – Action sequences – by Julian Simpson

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