Once again The Story Toolkit Podcast got me thinking. This time it was about Stranger Things (episode 23). Bassim El-Wakil and Luke Lyon-Wall in the second half of the podcast episode talk about how transitions are not just clever endings of scenes, but are key to keeping the thread of the story coherent.
Isn’t that even MORE important in audio drama? Looking back, I have the most difficulty in following shows that have massive casts. Maybe more than any other medium- because audio has so few cues- keeping the listener intrigued but not confused is key. “Stranger Things” operates with at least four scenes running concurrently throughout the series: there’s the boys, Joyce Byers (the mother of missing Will), Hopper the police investigator, the Montauk researchers, and of course Eleven and even Nancy.
Among the many options that keep the audience involved, “Stranger Things” uses clever image displays between scenes of the real world and the “upside-down”. But Audio Drama doesn’t have visual options to help guide the listener.
Music- Maybe one of the least considered aspects. I know that I’ve always broken down my music in shows to: theme, background, and stings. But what about themes that are based around characters. If there’s an aural theme or sting that can help a listener recognize who is speaking, wouldn’t that help clarify quickly what is going on? It worked for John Williams who had a Leia’s Theme. So if you’re creating music for a series, why not consider some themes for the main characters as well?
Connecting Dialogue- The hit cartoon Archer could easily be translated as an Audio Drama. The series boasts fast-paced and witty dialogue. Often closing scenes with off-colour remarks about what character or another, then transitioning to that character engaged in said off-colour activity. This transition is used mostly for comic effect but if carefully managed could helpfully connect the storyline between two disparate settings.
Sound Effects- Similar to connecting dialogue, using a sound effect to transition between scenes could be used to comic effect and sparingly through other genres.
Fade Out/Fade In- This transitioning technique is used as often as music, hoping the break in dialogue will help identify a clear break in scenes for the listener. But sometimes simply moving to silence alone can be a distraction.
The key to great transitions is coherence. Whatever method you employ, remember that first and foremost you’re telling a story in audio drama that has to be followed by someone who doesn’t have the aid of a paragraph, an ellipsis, or stunning visual clues from teleplays.
In Audio Drama if you’ve lost the audience for a moment, that’s usually a moment too long.