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I don’t know who needs to hear this, but you’re not as old as you think you are and people older than you want you to shut the hell up.
This has been said with love, as someone who complains too often about being in her mid-thirties.
(It’s my fault I feel old, by the way. I watch all these creators on YouTube who are in their twenties. They’re all great, inspiring women who make me feel like a crone.)
But I’m not old. And even if I was, I’m still not too old to learn new things.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I’m learning a new way to write.
This year I launched a true-crime podcast called Off The Bone with the amazing Boxhuman. I’m getting ready to launch a fiction podcast sometime this year. In creating these new podcasts, I’ve learned to write a different way. I’ve learned to write content that’s meant to be heard instead of read.
It kind of astounds me how different it is to write this way. I don’t know why this should be so shocking. It’s a totally different medium. But I think if I’d realized how different it was going to be, how alien it would feel, I might have chickened out.
If you’re considering starting a podcast, let me share with you what I’ve learned. Here are four things to consider when writing to be heard.
Are you talking over people’s heads?
I’m not a big fan of talking down to people or thinking I’m smarter than others. I’m not. That being said, sometimes my word choice is, well, unusual.
If I’m writing a blog post or book that doesn’t matter so much. If a reader doesn’t know the word I used, they can look it up. But if someone’s listening to a podcast, they don’t have as much time to stop and look up some archaic weird word I used. The same can be said for concepts or references unless I’m going to take the time to stop and explain them.
Now, I’m not saying you should assume people won’t know what you’re talking about. I’m also not suggesting that challenging people with new concepts is a bad idea. But we all have topics and theories that we know a stupid amount about. Like, more than most people do and anyone needs to. Maybe that’s why you’re doing a podcast to start with. Maybe the whole point is to explain more about the life cycle of kiwi birds. But if you’re just quickly referencing some obscure thing like everyone knows what you mean, that’s going to throw some people off. You’re going to lose listeners. So don’t go over people’s heads. If you’re talking about something complex or not commonly understood, take a few seconds to make sure everyone’s on the same page. Or at least in the same book.
How do your sentences sound?
Sentence structure is one of the real nut and bolts parts of grammar that I don’t always pay as much attention to as I should. Usually when I’m writing it’s to tell a story or entertainingly convey information. The smaller the piece, the more I pay attention to sentence structure, though. I also pay more attention to word usage and flow to convey an emotion.
When you’re writing a script to read out loud, though, you want to keep in mind that you are going to have to actually read it out loud. And it needs to sound a certain way.
Do yourself a favor, and read your entire script out loud as part of your editing process. Some sentences look and feel just fine on the page, but sound clunky and soulless when spoken.
Are you droning on?
Remember earlier when we talked about not talking over people’s heads? Please, for the love of Benji don’t use this as an excuse to drone on.
Yes, the point of most podcasts is to talk at length about a certain topic. But that doesn’t mean you need to over-explain.
Let’s say I’m writing a podcast about HH Holmes. (Which I did). Do I want to talk about how he put people down a body chute to his basement to ‘play’ with the corpses? (Not like that, you pervert.) Oh yeah, that’s the kind of content a listener is there for. Do I need to go into a lengthy explanation of how the chute was built? Probably not. Maybe I want to toss in a little bit of info, but a ton is not needed.
How’s your pacing?
Honestly, a lot of this advice comes down to this one factor. Is your pacing entertaining? Are you giving information in an informative way without bludgeoning someone with facts they can’t absorb?
This goes for fiction, too. Info dumping isn’t a great idea in a book. It’s even worse in a podcast. If you go into an info dump on the page, at least the reader can go back over it a couple of times if they need to soak it all in. But people listen to podcasts most often when they’re doing other things. I listen to them while I edit, wash dishes, schedule social media, or any of the other less glamorous parts of writing. (It’s not all prancing through a mental playground, folks. Writing is work. Work worth doing, the best work there is, but still work.)
The point is, if someone’s listening to your podcast while driving to the grocery store and you info dump on them, they’re not going to retain half of what you just said. And if they didn’t retain it, you might as well have not wasted anyone’s time by saying it.
So what do you think? What should writers keep in mind while writing a script to be read? And, as a bonus, what’s your favorite podcast? Let us know in the comments below.
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