Want to Write AD? Listen to OTR

The incredible Craig Robotham is hard at work doing great analysis of audio drama. One of his latest articles is How I Learned to Stop Hating, and Love (Limited) Narration.
For all the hatred of OTR– and the hatred is extremely ill-founded and frustrating to me- if you despise old time radio it’s usually for one of the following reasons:
1. You don’t like the sound quality of the shows that we are left with. (apparently they were released originally in high quality stereo. It’s our recording devices that are poor)
2. You don’t like the Mid-Atlantic accent.
3. You think the story telling is old fashioned.
4. You think the acting was bad.
5. You think the writing was bad.
While I have a little sympathy for number one (we’re left with what we are left with) and number two is just silly, three to five really depends on the shows involved. Some shows were terrible, others were brilliant.
If you love the detective style of storytelling, I highly recommend the podcast “Down These Mean Streets“. The background details on these shows alone are worth it. The host provides great information that will better inform folks on just how great some of these tales are.
The point I’m trying to make is Old Time Radio had some real advantages that I wish modern audio drama writers would take to heart:
1. Strong pacing.
2. Powerful understanding of the limitations of narration and how that provides better immersion.
3. The extremely varied opportunities of the medium. A lot of people think they are making new ground in audio drama with the modern presentation when most of the time OTR did it before (and often better). Simply being aware of how OTR put so many different stories together provides much more understanding.
Steven King in his book “On Writing” talks about how important it is to read more to become a good writer. I would argue you need to listen to more radio drama if you want to be a good audio scriptwriter. It’s key.
As a child, I had a cassette tape of “Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark“. Those read along books were primers for kids to get used to the cues of audio drama. They helped trained the ear to need less narration. When I heard my parents listening to “Vanishing Point” , I knew what was real adult drama in comparison. I think our audience today might have done well to grown up with the same opportunities, because narration in too many shows is not as sophisticated as it once was.

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