This week, I am going to look at the planning that goes into narrative podcast creation: the steps you need to take before writing a single word of the script or recording a second of audio. Creating a plan prior to sitting down to write helps to keep the podcast project focused, as well as gives you a realistic expectation with regards to the timeframe you can expect production to entail. It also helps identify the people you need to have involved once you are ready to write and record.
The first piece of planning is to determine exactly what type of narrative podcast you want to create. Will your podcast be fiction or nonfiction? The decision of how you want to tell your story can have an impact on your timeline, as different types of podcasts can dictate different time commitments. Below are some of the most common types of fiction and non-fiction podcasts, as well as examples of professional podcasts that use each narrative structure:
Fireside storytelling: Straight forward, linear narrative storytelling. The kind of story you could imagine someone telling around a campfire (example: Lore).
Self-aware storytelling: Use of the medium as a part of the story. The podcast itself acts as a character in the story. These podcasts are very up-front about being a podcast and speak directly to the audience (examples: Welcome to Night Vale, Limetown, The Message).
Non-linear storyline: Use of timeline editing that makes the listener piece together the overall narrative. Not as straight forward in their storytelling style. Like a Quentin Tarrantino-style storytelling format (examples: Homecoming, Alice Isn’t Dead).
Documentary style: Follows a linear timeline like a feature-film documentary. Often have high production values (example: Crimetown).
Non-linear/documentary hybrid: The most popular type of podcast. Similar to documentary style, however, these use timeline reorganization to push the story progression. Often use hosts/producers as characters (examples: Serial, S-Town, In the Dark).
Tent-pole thematic: Rather than having a single story throughout an entire podcast, uses multiple, stand-alone stories within a single episode. These stories reinforce or investigate a central theme (examples: Radiolab, This American Life).
Selecting the style of podcast you wish to create before beginning the script writing process is important because it helps you get a better idea of the planning and assets required to create the podcast. For example, a single story spanning many episodes tends to take longer to write than a series of stand-alone topics, and likely involves a larger number of characters. This information can help you to plan for the number of actors you will need, as well as to estimate your scripting timeline.
With your story style selected, you will have a better picture of the skillsets you need to create your podcast. From a production standpoint, all you really need is a basic understanding of your equipment and editing software. The ability to do things such as remove background noises and crossfade audio tracks within your editing software are good techniques to understand. The same can be said for adjusting volume levels of individual files and fading in and out of audio clips. If you are not familiar with basic editing techniques, I would suggest taking some time to learn your editing software prior to writing a script.
The other skillsets you need to be aware of are those of your voice actors. Narrative podcasting is different than recording voice-overs for a traditional eLearning module. The people you get to read your parts need to be able to approach their lines from the standpoint of an actor, not just a narrator. They need to be able to deliver lines, not just read them. Remember, voice acting IS acting, and not everyone has the innate skill. I recommend casting roles using an audition process, so you can make sure that the people playing your characters are able to deliver their lines with a degree of emotion and pizzazz.
Exact timeframes needed to create a narrative podcast will vary by person and project, depending on your level of experience and the type of story. It’s helpful though to have a general idea of how long creating a podcast takes, so you are able to have a baseline off which to budget your time. The following timelines are what I tend to follow when making a narrative podcast. For the purpose of this exercise, we will assume each podcast episode has a runtime of 20 minutes:
Script Writing: This is where the heavy lifting of your podcast creation takes place, and where you should spend the most time. Including research and writing, I budget 40 hours for each episode script.
Audio recording: This can vary depending on the number of characters your story contains, and the availability of your actors, but on average I budget 15 hours for the recording of voice talent.
Audio editing: In order to edit individual audio tracks, download or create music and sound clips, and combine tracks into a cohesive story, I tend to budget 20 hours per episode.
Obviously, these numbers are estimates, and can be longer or shorter depending on the style of podcast you want to create. On the whole, I tend to timeline out 80 hours (or two weeks) to write, record, and edit each podcast episode. The more you get involved with narrative podcasting, and the more experience you gain, the better you will be able to understand how long it takes you personally to create each episode. However, these podcast production planning timeframes can serve as a general outline as you plan out your initial development timelines.