Over the last decade, podcasts have exploded. Currently, there are more than 850,000 active podcasts and that number is only going to grow. And the runaway popularity of podcasts—both fiction and non-fiction—is largely thanks to the simple and appealing audio format. These bite-sized nuggets of audio entertainment and information explore a myriad of topics and genres from true crime and horror to comedy. Even better, most podcasts are free to download and relatively cheap to make.
And Hollywood is taking notice. But there's one emerging podcast genre in particular that's gaining popularity amongst film and TV development executives that every screenwriter should to know about: Fiction podcasts. Here's everything you need to know about fiction podcasts, including why they're taking off, how you can write a fiction podcast, and what you can do to get your fiction podcast script in front of industry professionals.
Not your grandma’s radio play
If you’re thinking that fiction podcasts are just a digital rehashing of old-timey radio dramas that were popular in the 1930s and 40s – think again. Widespread access to technology has really lifted the genre by leaps and bounds, making it an exciting space full of creativity and experimentation.
If the general rule of a movie script is "show don’t tell," the general rule of a fiction podcast script is tell me more–but in a variety of ways
Many of the fictional podcast stories are unconventional and push the envelope; even mashing up genres. There are no major advertisers to offend or MPAA ratings to adhere to so there’s no reason not to turn things up a notch. Turns out there’s a lot of new ground just waiting to be explored in the audio-only realm of fiction. It’s like the wild, wild, west of entertainment.
How to write a fiction podcast script
Just like a movie, your fiction podcast needs a script. Unlike movies, the emphasis is on the audio not the visuals. If the general rule of a movie script is "show don’t tell," the general rule of a fiction podcast script is tell me more–but in a variety of ways.
Some of the best ways to adapt a traditional screenplay to a fictional podcast script is with dialogue and narration, foley, sound effects, and even sounds from nature as well as music. The idea is to transport the listener to another world full of sound and mood—a world you create.
The good news is you can easily write a fiction podcast script using your regular screenwriting software like Highland or Final Draft. Because a screenplay is formatted to create one minute of screen time per page, the same holds true for air time.
If your first episode is 15 pages, you can expect to have about a 15-minute-long fiction podcast
How long should a podcast be?
It's no secret that most podcast listeners like short, serialized stories. They fit into our busy lifestyles. That's why most fiction podcasts follow the episodic TV format and come in around (or under) 3o minutes. As screenwriters, we know about writing serialized scripts for television, but it’s possible your fiction podcast will be shorter than a thirty minute TV show.
But like most things in the podcast space, that's not a hard rule. Some popular fiction podcasts can be an hour or longer. It really depends on your genre.
Also like TV shows, people tend to gravitate toward podcasts that release an episode every week—or at least twice a month. This schedule gives listeners something to look forward to. But some producers like to release an entire season all at once so listeners can binge them (and create impressive download numbers). Again, the choice of podcast length and release schedule is up to.
However, the way you end each episode should resemble the classic TV model of "the hook."
Every podcast episode needs a hook
If you're adapting a screenplay or writing a new podcast script, it's important to break your content down into smaller, digestible blocks. However, avoid the temptation to tie up the end of each episode with a neat bow. Great storytelling—whether it's podcasts or TV—always needs a good hook. A hook is a type of cliffhanger that will leave a conflict unresolved – at least until the next episode.
- Has a character gone missing?
- Is there a mysterious spaceship hovering in the sky?
- Did someone discover a strange creature living under their house?
Podcasts have become a crowded space. You need to entice people to listen to the next episode. A hook does that. There's even some compelling research that shows how hooks release oxytocin, the chemical in the brain that promotes the feeling of well-being. Maybe you can even write a podcast episode about the phenomena.
Hollywood is listening to podcasts
Studios are desperate for content right now. Networks want fresh innovative intellectual property—especially if a show can build a large and loyal following. Development executives are turning to podcasts the same way TV programmers in the 1950s adapted radio shows like The Lone Ranger for the small screen. In fact, the last few years has seen a flurry of development deals for popular fiction podcasts.
- Blumhouse TV is currently adapting the horror podcast The Horror of Delores Roach for Amazon
- FX is developing the surreal fiction podcast Welcome to Night Vale
- Amazon’s Homecoming, starred Julia Roberts is in its first season and Janelle Monae in the second
- Limetown on Amazon Watch, signed Jessica Biel to star
Hollywood is hungry for great fictional podcasts. You just have to know how to write a great fictional podcast script.
How to write a fiction podcast script
It's surprisingly easy to adapt an existing screenplay into a fiction podcast. You just have to modify the visual details and use sound cues and exposition in the dialogue to create the world of your story. Let your characters to describe what they see—blue skies with radiant sunlight and a double rainbow; a dark basement lit by a single candle; or the inside of a human brain, where neurons light up like fireworks. Let the dialogue and exposition set the scene.
Any genre will work for your fiction podcast script, but some of the most popular over the past few years include:
- Science fiction
- Mystery (true-crime)
But don't be discouraged if you want to write in a different genre than what you see here. The podcast space is wide open right now. Many successful fiction podcasts combine genres with impressive results. If you’re adapting an existing movie script, you just need to streamline the story a bit, possibly cut or combine characters and break it down into multiple 5 to 30-page segments. Also, make sure there’s a hook at the end of each episode.
If you’re looking to tell a new story in a fiction podcast, do your research and see what already exists in the space. Check out what’s popular and study the storytelling techniques that you think are most successful. Then create something new! There's plenty of room for your audio fiction podcast in the media landscape today. In fact, there's never been a better time to write a podcast.
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