What makes an audio story?

The Sonic Society‘s Jack Ward returns to the show, looking to break down and analyse the nuts and bolts of what makes up an audio story, and what forms that story can take. The segment features clips from GateThe ChampionSearcher & StallionBlack Jack JusticeCrazy Dog AudioTeknikal DiffikultiesGusu, and Cosmo & Robetta. As well as being featured in audio form, you can also find a full transcript of Jack’s piece, below.

And remember to look out for part 2, which will be featured on episode 47 of this humble podcast.

If you’d like to send us some audio with your thoughts, opinions, helpful tips, experiences etc, then we’d love to hear from you – email us at podcast@audiodramaproduction.com and you can of course also find us on Twitter and Facebook.

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My Unified Theory of the Audio Story

By Jack Ward

How is an Audio Story represented? Is there a way to best articulate all the kinds of stories you can have in audio? I’m Jack Ward from the Sonic Society.

Audio has all kinds of kinship with any other form of story medium. There’s plot and character, and setting, theme, point of view or perspective, and satire, and genre, and tone and mood etc…

But when we’re talking about what represents the completed form that the audio story can take… How would that look?

Untitled1Well. I think, since we’re all audio drama enthusiasts, it begins here. Where we’re standing now is the first point which we call simply “Drama”.

Pure Audio Drama occurs directly and immediately. It is the real-time unveiling of the story happening to character or characters. Like any other form of “play”, Drama is an experience that is happening to the listener…

Sure there’s time frames like any other kind of story, but the plot reveals itself to the listeners through the experiences of the characters in the drama.

For example, in my audio series “Gate” in which a young teenager discovers that something strange is happening to her. Through dialogue the audience discovers that something isn’t quite right with Gate’s parents.

So pure drama is immediate. There’s no voice over, no narrator, no chorus. Nothing clues the characters in as to what is happening in the story but the natural unfolding of events within the play itself.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’ve heard PLENTY of Audio Dramas that have lots of narration, or inner monologues, and you’re right.

But I would argue that’s an entirely different point in what makes an audio story. For that… We need to get on my segway and take a trip… That’s okay… There’s plenty of room. Just hold on a little tightly. This will be a quick jaunt.

It’s a bit of a trip, but if you can imagine a line going from our point of pure “Drama” all the way along here until…

We’re here. The end of the line. This point on our Audio Story landscape is called “Narrative”.


Pure narrative is where audio books live. This edge point called Narrative represents that single voice telling the listener what occurs or how the story occurs. Narrative is the purest form of storytelling we have. You can imagine Grunk telling the rest of the tribe how he got away from saber-toothed tiger that terrible hunting trip, or… You can tune into that podnovel of Scott Sigler….

The pure Narrative has no sound effects and really not even music to “shall we say” muddy the waters of the pure narrative method of storytelling. Now that was strictly Scott Sigler telling the story. The story doesn’t have to be first person perspective in narrative and third person in drama. You can alternate or mix up point of view any way you like between the two. As I mentioned before, perspective is not a clear identifier of the audio story. The difference between the two is that Narrative is a prosaic style of telling and Drama is the theatrical style of showing the story.

So this is why the long segway between Drama and Narrative because those two pure forms are extremely rare. MOST audio stories aren’t confined to clear either/or options. The line between them, is actually a road FILLED with incredibly exciting choices along the way.

For example, if we board our segway again…

From this last stop of Narrative, we can take our first stop back towards drama with “Searcher and Stallion” by Scott Howard.

Notice Howard’s use of audio drama is more of a narrative tale told with sound effects, and music. Multi-cast characters in an audio book are just the “next town down” towards Drama on our road.

But if we continue down this road still on this side of narration we come up to “Black Jack Justice” from Decorder Ring Theatre, written and created by Gregg Taylor.

Here the strong narrations of Jack Justice and Trixie Dixon- Girl Detective, begin almost every show with their snappy patter. Certainly, you’ll find a lot of Private Detective shows on this middle ground. We could call it Noir Boulevard… or something close to that, if it were a neighbourhood.

But while the patter is narration, Taylor uses it as a framing device to provide the setting, plot, mood, and even some character drama that is revealed through the rest of the audio in its dramatic story structure.

Sure there’ll be more narrative monologues with the main characters, but that’s part of the colour along the way.

Further down the road, we can find avenues, routes, and way stations for everything between those two end posts: Narrative and Drama.

But are both sides, really the end? Can we drive off this road? Can we jump the line?

Well.. yes we can. In fact, there’s an entirely third destination. Which means, our line suddenly becomes a triangle. But now that our Audio-landscape is larger, let’s just do a quick cut scene and get us to our newest position with a fade out.

And fade in… Here we are on our theoretical third point of our representation of Audio Story. To get here, you have to escape the whole concept of telling a story with a beginning, middle, and an end all together…

Welcome to the surreal point I call. “Experimental”.

Untitled3In Experimental audio, dramatic characters might break the fourth wall with the audience, or rip off into a series of nonsense sketch comedy pieces, or break into improv, or maybe assemble as a puzzle audio in which all the pieces are out of place and its up to the listener to re-assemble them. How weird would that be?

Weird and AWESOME!

Along one of the tracks that leads to Drama but close to the Experimental side, you’d find a sketch by Roger Gregg of Crazy Dog Audio Theatre on… well writing Audio Drama.

A little further down the path (although it could be said that the roads around the Experimental side of town are windy and not straight) you could very well find the madcap adventures of Cayenne Chris Conroy in Teknikal Diffikulties… where he improvs the entire show playing all characters himself. Conroy lifts the fourth wall up and down so much that the audience is never quite sure if we’re watching an audio drama, or a performance art piece… or if there’s even a difference!

Are you beginning to see the possibilities and the wide swath of real estate that the Experimental end of our triangle represents?

Firesign Theatre, The Goon Show, Dead Dog Cafe… The experimental side of either the narrative OR dramatic structure is rife with a variety of options. You could imagine three strong lines leading from the Experimental end point- One towards Narrative like John Bell’s “The Devil’s Pinata- A mercifully short Buck Shott comedy adventure” – that’s the whole title by the way and an audio novel full of Pratt falls, and in-jokes to the listener. Or it could be the path from Experimental to Drama like the Gestalt Mindtrip that was Bill Hollweg and Paul Mannering’s “GUSU”.

I still don’t understand what happened to a part of my soul when I listened to GUSU the first time. I have this weird feeling that it turned into Kippers and tastes like yellow….

The middle path starting from Experimental but leading directly between Drama and Narrative, could represent a whole lot of live theatre groups, who experiment with audio drama, but provide a lot of narrative insight through an announcer or master of ceremonies, or a monologue or aside to the listening audience. In fact, if I were to place a series of towns and hamlets on this theoretical mid-line straight down our triangle,. I think you’d find Chatterbox Audio Theatre with Bob Arnold. Chatterbox likes to play with ideas, and they aren’t afraid of trying new things to bring out the amazing power of audio story.

Other great experimental live companies that you might find in that neighbourhood are Texas Radio Theatre, Coyote Radio, Zombie Astronaut’s Frequency of Fear Lite, Atlanta Radio Theatre, Third Coast Live, Great Northern Audio, The Thrilling Adventure Hour and so many many more.

There’s lots of laughs and psychedelic trips on the Experimental side, but it doesn’t have to all be comedy. It could be music- like “Cosmo and Robetta” which I would place a little further down towards Narrative.

So, what I’m saying is EVERY spoken word audio art of one kind or another can be placed somewhere, in our triangle of Audio Story. That is every story has a neighbourhood and plot between those three points of Drama, Narrative and Experimental audio.

In fact, if you can identify proximity of stories somewhere in the triangle, you’ve identified at least the character of the organization producing the work, and the style of the author.

What I mean is… if I know, that a story from Pete Lutz, who writes both original scripts and scripts based on stories from the public domain fit a particular area which is mostly Drama, but also formed with a strong narrative introduction, and slightly upwards into the experimental country of “pulp”, then I know the character of Pulp-Pourri Theatre, and the writing style of Lutz’ work. I can see where he’s similar and also different from the folks at “Harrison Quest” where the Sons of Ford are much further down the line between Experimental and Drama as they run a continual story about how they want Harrison Ford to star in their movie.

So where do you fit? Where would you place your own preferences for story writing and for story listening? Because they could be totally different. You may love “In the Gloaming” but write from “HG World”.

So, we have three points of possibilities of Drama, Narrative, and Experimental which represent the outer edges of Audio Story, and all the places in-between are the personalities and styles of all the artists in the Audioverse.

Your head hurt yet?

Well, take two aspirins. Swallow a shot of your favourite fire water, because we’re not done yet. To properly encapsulate the entire audio-landscape we need to go 3D, and that’s in Part 2.