Today, to fill in my very conspicuous gap, I have the wonderful Philip Craig Robotham doing a guest interview.
Philip has started up his own company, weirdworldstudios.com, producing audio drama scripts in the style of old time radio plays packaged as a fun dinner party idea. While still holding down his day job, Philip has created radio plays for three serials; Pulp Adventure, Gaslamp Mystery and Fantasy Noir. Today we talk about why radio plays, how he writes, and the challenges associated with starting a writing career.
What inspires you to write?
For me writing is enormous fun. I do it because I love the thrill of creating and allowing my imagination to run wild. I'm also an old-time radio fan. I enjoy everything from adventures like "Gunsmoke", "the Green Hornet", "the Saint", and "Yours Truly Johnny Dollar", through comedies such as "the Goon Show" and "Fibber McGee and Molly", through science fiction like "X Minus 1" and "ProjectXx", through to horror and suspense like "the Inner Sanctum".
It's typical of me that the genre of writing that gets me excited the most is one which died out more than forty years ago. All the same, it's what I love and seems to be having something of a resurgence lately via the internet. There have been some great examples of audio drama made available recently from podcasters online. These include the fabulous "Adventures of the Red Panda", the haunting and creepy "Wormwood", the extremely professional "Leviathan Chronicles", and far too many others to list.
I'm not a particularly florid writer. I like plain speech and simple exposition. I'm also not overly fond of having to write lengthy descriptions of people and places. As a result radio writing seems to have been made for me.
|The first of the Pulp Adventure Series|
How does writing an audio drama differ from other genres?
Writing for the ear is very different to any other kind of writing that I have ever done. For one thing everything is exposition. In real life no-one ever says "look out Claire, he's holding a gun!", but in an audio drama it's essential to spell out what is happening for the listener. It's also very hard to write an audio drama with a lone character in it. If you do then you'll find yourself forced to have the character talking to him or herself constantly. The old Sam Spade voice-over was probably invented for radio shows relying on a single main character:
"I walked the last 18 steps to the battered old front door. The lock had been jimmied and swung creaking on its hinges in the evening breeze."
There’s great atmosphere in these monologues but, personally, I like my characters to have company and it lets me indulge my taste for banter:
"What are we doing here, boss?"
"Old man Cranston invited us to come visit him up at the house."
"Yeah? Battered looking old place isn't it? Give me a second and I'll try the door... Hey, the lock's broken! This door's been jimmied open."
"What gave it away, genius? The fact that it was swinging back and forth on its hinges or the crowbar lying in the dirt beside it?"
I also like conflict and a bit of "sass". It’s harder to have that with a lone character.
One thing you really develop when writing an audio script is your ability to do dialog and characterisation (especially dialog). That's simply because dialog is all you have to work with most of the time. You don't have to spend a lot of time labouring over descriptions of people and places when you write for radio - the listener will supply all the detail with their own imaginations - but you do have to manage dialog. In fact a judicious lack of physical description engages the listener’s imagination more effectively and helps them to identify themselves more fully with the characters.
The other thing that is surprisingly hard to do in audio is action. A fight scene needs to be over really quickly because otherwise the listener is being treated to a whole series of bangs and whaps that don't provide anything much for the listener's imagination to grab onto... and a blow by blow description (while in keeping with many of the conventions of the genre) starts to sound like a commentary at a prize fight. When it comes to descriptions of what the characters see, hear and experience, you want just enough to tell the audience what they need to know about the environment without it sounding so unrealistic that it jettisons them out of the story.
Another thing that's easy to forget is that the listener will not know who is speaking unless someone among the characters refers to that character by name. My very first (and thankfully long buried) attempt at script writing suffered from this problem but I still have to go through my completed scripts and make sure all the characters have been properly identified out loud before I send them off to my editor.
BTW - finding a skilled editor to whip my work into shape is an absolute must as a self-publisher. I can't begin to say how much embarrassment I have been saved by the sharp eye of my editor. That isn’t to say that there isn't plenty more embarrassment to be had for which I am solely responsible.
|Pulp Adventure - Episode 2|
How do you structure your work?
I write in episodic format. That is, I write as if I'm writing episodes in a radio serial. Most of the old radio stories of the past were limited to around twenty to forty minutes or so. I find that twenty minutes is too short for telling the kind of stories I want to tell (though the discipline of paring back a story until it can be told in twenty minutes is a good one). I write what I call "feature length" plays to be read over an hour and a half to two hours and while I am writing self-contained episodes they do each contribute to a larger story.
When it comes to the structure of my writing I find the good old three act story structure really helpful. I know lots of writers hate it, find it confining and formulaic, and in some cases even deny that it exists, but I find it helpful as a way of keeping momentum in my writing and stopping me from becoming dull. It also gives me a bridging structure for the wider story arc of each serial I write. Personally I'm not a high-concept kind of writer. Don't get me wrong, I wish I had the talent for that and envy those that do. Instead I write the kind of stories I enjoy; adventures, usually with a deal of mystery and supernatural suspense thrown in for good measure. I also write to entertain. While I like to have good-guys who are good and bad-guys who are bad, I'm not writing to instruct or make any deep moral statements about the world. I leave that kind of thing to better writers than I am. I'm simply having fun and hoping my readers do as well.
|Gaslamp Mystery - Episode 1|
Do you have a specific process or schedule?
I have two small children and a day job so writing is something I do in my spare time. I try to write something every day but I don't always get the chance. I don't beat myself up over this. Life happens and if I get to spend some time writing four days out of seven, I call it a win and move on. I begin with a fairly detailed outline, breaking down the acts, plot points, and character points in the story. I don't bother breaking down the scenes at this stage but I do build a pretty clear outline of all the events in the story before I sit down to write the first draft. For me an outline is essential – it gives me confidence that most of the plot problems have been solved before the writing begins.
I write the first draft straight through. Not necessarily in one sitting but usually without going back over the text until it is all complete. I have found that if I start polishing before the first draft is complete I waste a huge amount of time writing and re-writing the same material over and over and eventually abandon the whole thing.
Once the first draft is written I go back to the beginning and start revising. I look for plot holes, stuff that doesn't make sense, redundancy, places where my pace is either too slow or too quick (still working on this one), and points at which I can punch up the character interaction. I also check to see that I've been able to maintain the voices of my characters authentically. Finally, I revise for spelling, grammar, and punctuation problems.
Technically I guess that's just three drafts, but my second and third drafts are a form of death by a thousand cuts where I go over and over the text until I feel that I can stand to look at it without complete embarrassment. I'm not the kind of writer who will spend forever perfecting every turn of phrase. I like telling stories and am too impatient to connect with an audience for that kind of perfectionism. Besides I've ruined more than one story by overworking it. They say that no work of art is ever finished, merely abandoned, and I guess that's true of my writing (though whether it qualifies as art is something I'll leave to the reader).
|Fantasy Noir - Episode 1|
What's the most unique thing about your writing?
Probably the most unique thing about my writing is its packaging. The plays I write, while fun to read in their own right, are designed to be performed as part of a dinner party by a group of from 6 to 8 participants. The six episodes I've published so far include everything you need to host a fun dinner party and script reading; costume ideas, period recipes, instructions for a "build it yourself" sound effects kit, and, of course, an original script. I came up with the idea as I puzzled over how I might take part in the apparent revival that audio drama online has been enjoying in recent years. Unfortunately I don’t have the technical expertise to create a podcast, nor access to the acting talent necessary to create an audio drama.
In light of this I spent some time thinking about what I really enjoyed about the radio dramas of yore and I was suddenly struck by something. For me, the fond memories are all tied up with the time spent listening with family. It was about the fun we had together living the experience in our imaginations. I would laugh myself hoarse listening to the Goon Show and other programs. They were great times of fun, family, food and community.
As I thought about this it occurred to me that, as much as I love professionally produced audio drama, there might be a way to recapture some of that sense of fun and community without necessarily having to invest heavily in technology and good actors. Earlier this year we held our first dinner party/script reading with an original script that I wrote to celebrate my forty third birthday. We had a blast. Food, friends, fun, and one thing more that I don't think you get by merely listening; a sense of being inside and part of the story.
What's the biggest challenge you face?
The biggest challenge I face as I enter the world of self-publishing is that of marketing my own work. Frankly... marketing is not what I'm best at. Like most people who enjoy writing (a fairly solitary task by its very nature) I don't actually know that many people. The big challenge for me, then, is spreading the word that these stories exist.
So, with Christmas just 13 weeks away, why not take a look at hosting your own party, or giving a radio as a unique and interesting gift from as little as 5.99?
Philip Craig Robotham’s “Host your own Old-Time Audio Drama” scripts are available in pdf, e-book, and print on demand versions. Check out the facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/weirdworldstudioscom) and website (http://www.weirdworldstudios.com/) for more information or to place an order