5 things I learned while recording a fiction podcast

As a writer you spend a lot of time imagining what your lines will sound like read by other people. I'd never written a podcast or an audiodrama (audiocomedy) before, so when I started one at the beginning of summer, I quickly realised something: there are no stage directions. It's all dialogue. My podcast has a narrator, but even so there's a fine line between showing and telling.

Aside from the challenge of writing something which relies entirely on audio, there were some other things that I learned about the process itself, which you might find useful if you're thinking of giving fiction podcasting a go yourself.

Number scenes and record to a plan

The Disappearance of the Lilac Tiger is a five-part story, structured more or less like a traditional screenplay. It's split into scenes, which we recorded out of order to maximise our two days of studio time. It meant that we might record scenes 1.1 - 1.5, before jumping to scenes 4.3 - 5.6.

Regardless of how you choose to record, having a recording schedule written down is crucial. That way you can tick off scenes as they're recorded, ensuring that nothing is missed.

Here's a snapshot of our recording schedule for the two days in which we recorded. You can download individual scripts from each episode on the website.

Find a production assistant

Since this was my first fiction podcast and I had next to no budget, I arranged recording times myself. By some miracle (and with a lot of help from my actors) I managed not to mess it up, but the addition of a production assistant to help coordinate scenes and scheduling, would have made life so much easier.

Record in a proper recording location

Hiring a professional recording studio is probably out of the question for most first-time podcasters. That was definitely the case for me. That said, you should try and get as close to a studio setup as possible.

I know that many popular podcasts, including Welcome to Night Vale were recorded in the narrator's apartment for a long time, but if you have a small cast to work with, then having them all sit in silence in your living room for eight hours a day, isn't ideal.

Instead, get in touch with your local drama school or amateur theatre group. It's a great way to find voice actors, and a place to record. I was fortunate that one of my actors (David McMaster, hire him for things) is a recent graduate of Drama Studio London, who happen to have a dedicated recording studio.

If you really can't find somewhere quiet to record, just be aware that background noise can be a problem. We're talking passing aircraft and traffic, kitchen appliances, neighbours, creaky floorboards and so on.

Consider letting someone else edit/produce

Budget constraints might mean that hiring an editor is out of the question. Instead, find a creative partner who has experience with audio production. This will free you up to get back to writing. Plus, audio production isn't something to be taken lightly. It's possible to learn, and a valuable skill to have, but the curve is steep.

Getting the most out of your recordings is something which requires experience, and a depth of knowledge most first-time podcasters (myself included) just don't have.

Lilac Tiger was edited using Audacity.

Give your actors freedom to create

One of the most pleasantly surprising things about recording, whether it's audio-visual or just audio, is how much better actors can make your work. They are, after all, performers. No matter how many ways you can find in your head to spin a line of dialogue, an actor will find a better way. Embrace that, and you'll end up with something far more enjoyable than you could have imagined.

The Disappearance of the Lilac Tiger is available to stream now on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and anywhere else podcasts are found.


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