Updated: Jan 24
Whether you're "blank page and blinking cursor", or weaving words like Snoop, there are a few things you should learn before firing headlong into writing your podcast.
Okay, are you ready for some odd-sounding advice?
Generally, I would very strongly suggest that you DON'T write a script for your podcast. After all, one of the great things about podcasting is the fact that you feel like you're listening to an intimate conversation, and there's no quicker way to ruin that feeling than reading a script word for word. No matter how good of an actor you are, we can tell you're reading!
Instead, it's much more preferable to write a series of dot points or shorthand, and read from that. HOWEVER, you might not feel comfortable doing that if you're just starting out. Or perhaps you're giving your script to someone else (say a voiceover artist) to read. Well in that case, you'll need to write your script in an audio-friendly way!
Writing for audio is tricky. You can be a Pulitzer nominee in the written format, but yet your scripts sound clunky, wordy and forced. No matter! First, let's take a look at what makes a script written for your ears different from one you might read in the newspaper, or read out at your school assembly:
What's different about writing for a podcast?
Writing for audio is different that writing for reading, for a couple of reasons:
Firstly, you get one shot at having someone understand what you say; there's no going back and re-reading a sentence you didn't understand! Unless you want your audience to constantly be rewinding...
Long words that make you look smart on paper can be really difficult to say, or sound hideous when they're read out loud.
Generally, you're under more time pressure for audio. Gotta make it snippy-snappy!
So no matter how good you think your writing might be on a page, those tricks you use to write a great news article or a great novel go out the window when you take away the visuals.
So if you're looking to optimise your writing for when people are listening, not reading, then read on.
Podcast scriptwriting hints:
1. Put the most important things first and last.
It’s a psychological fact that people remember the first and last pieces of information in any set of information, better than they remember the stuff in the middle. If, for example, you start a new job and the boss introduces you to your new team, you're more likely to remember the names of the people you were introduced to first, more likely to forget the names in the middle, and remember the names at the end.
Makes sense, then, to put the most important information where your audience is gonna remember it. That's most likely your show's name- if you're writing, say a 30-second show promo, the standard practice is to put in in at least 3 times. Once at the start, once in the middle, and once at the end. Bonus points for incorporating "showname.com" at the end as a way to get the audience to remember both your show and your web address at the same time!
2. Use a pronunciation guide.
If you’re giving the script to someone else to voice, it’s common to include a pronunciation guide to help them out whenever they come across a hard-to-pronounce word (jargon, foreign words, uncommon words, or names).
Generally, this will appear at the end of a paragraph like the below, although they can appear in-text in brackets (sometimes italicised) with the word 'pron' for pronunciation, with syllables capitalised for emphasis (pron: EMF-a-siss). Doesn't need to be fancy, just needs to get the point across.
Syllables: "SILL-a- bools"
3. Short sentences.
Your audience can’t go back to re-read your complex, wordy prose that you use to impress your boss when you're writing reports. So keep it simple. Use simple language- for the love of God don't use "utilise" when "use" will do. (That's a pet peeve of mine).
4. Be. Brutal.
Be ruthless in your editing. Write down everything you want to say, then rip the guts out of it. Every word that you can delete where it still makes sense, delete. Every sentence you can say in fewer words, use fewer words. Your audience do not have the luxury of a do-over, and if they miss what you've said, they've missed it. So give them an easier time and simplify, simplify, simplify.
5. Read it out loud.
It's a script, right? It's not for reading, it's for speaking! You know how it reads, but that's not important. You need to know how it SOUNDS.
Start reading out loud and all these problems start to magically reveal themselves. Stuff that sounded great in your head now sounds clunky and unmanageable. What you thought was a 30-second script becomes a minute-and-a-half of self-indulgent waffle. You can optimise for flow, so that words mesh together and sound great- and you can get an idea of the tone of voice you need, too.
It makes you feel weird, I understand. But it helps. Massively.
Write your podcast.
Now you know what to keep in mind, it's all about putting that stuff down on paper! And maybe coming up with a good excuse for if your office-mates/housemates/significant others find yourself sitting all alone in a room reading to yourself...
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