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! This might give you some pointers.
So how do you write a script for audio?
Maybe it's a radio script. Or a script for your podcast. Here's five things to keep in mind.
Writing for audio is different that writing for reading.
No matter how good you think your writing might be, those tricks you use to write a great news article or a great novel go out the window when you take away the words on the page.
So if you're looking to optimise your writing for when people are listening, not reading, then read on.
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 brand name- the standard practice is to put that 3 times in a 30-second script. Once at the start, once in the middle, and once at the end. Bonus points for incorporating "brandname.com" at the end as a way to get the audience to remember both your brand and your web address at the same time!
2. Use a pronunciation guide.
If you’re giving the script to someone else to voice, t’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).
Doesn't need to be fancy, just needs to get the point across.
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. 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.
Go and write that script!
I hope you learned something, and hopefully those tips will help make your audio sound great!
Have you got any tips for writing for audio? Let me know in the comments!
Chris Plumridge is a freelance audio producer, voiceover artist and writer from Leongatha in South Gippsland, Victoria, Australia.