Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by Tuskin38, Jan 12, 2022.
I really hope they´ll do many more of those
And then there are The Companion Chronicles, which are more like conventional audiobooks with just 2-3 actors. And The Early Adventures, which struck a good balance between narration and full dramatization, much like GraphicAudio's format. I wish more Who audios would do it that way.
Having worked on several projects for Big Finish productions (which you're using as your benchmark, it appears), and with that familiarity with how they create their works and develop their scripts, I have to say your assertion their plays are merely "pretending to be a TV show soundtrack" is completely wrong, if not borderline insulting to some of the excellent audio writing they've produced.
You are of course entitled to your opinion and your own listening preferences, but this blanket statement doesn't hold water. There are many audio dramas that work perfectly well without narration. It's not a necessity.
Indeed! Part of writing audio drama well is the ability to convey description and nuance through dialogue, music and effects without resorting to narration as a crutch - and it's hard to do! It's easy to fall into the trap of "radio speak" where characters describe stuff in clunky ways that feel unnatural, rather than subtly build the audio world for the listener.
To me, this statement misses out on one of the fundamental strengths of audio drama - and that is that the writer doesn't need to describe what everything looks like, nor should they. With dialogue, music and effects, a play can sketch in the broad strokes of a scene and then the listener does the rest with their imagination. The listener becomes an intimate part of the process of telling the story, far more than if they were reading a block of descriptive text off a page.
The best way I've heard it summed up was from something by Dirk Maggs - a brilliant audio writer/producer who has done some incredible work, most recently the Sandman adaptations for Audible - who said that in audio stories, the listener is complicit in the experience. They don't passively absorb the narrative delivered to them word for word, they build it in their thoughts. And I love that about audio, because it makes the experience involving in a way that other mediums can't duplicate.
When it comes to science fiction or fantasy, I disagree. In those genres, setting is particularly important. And they often involve settings, creatures, and devices that have no counterparts in the everyday world, so they can't be conveyed to an audience through sound effects alone. You can easily recognize the sound of an automobile or a dishwasher, but if you hear some weird electronic hum, how can you tell whether it's a hovercraft or a robot or a force field or whatever?
Certainly there are some SF/fantasy stories that can be told effectively without clear visuals, stories that are driven more by character and ideas. And those stories are certainly valid. Sometimes lack of visual description can even be an asset, as in that early Sixth Doctor story where the monster was made entirely of sound and the fact that someone was not what they seemed was kept a secret by our inability to see things. But stories that do rely heavily on setting and visuals are also valid, and I just don't see the value in deliberately choosing to limit the tools in your kit in a way that makes it harder to tell those stories. I mean, my Tangent Knights audio series is an homage to Japanese tokusatsu superheroes, and the individual armor designs and colors used by the different characters are a key part of that genre. It just wouldn't work without getting those visuals across through narration.
Not to mention that if you don't have narration, you sacrifice internal monologue. You can't tell a scene from the point of view of a character who isn't speaking, say, if they're alone when they witness something, or if they're watching a scene clandestinely and don't want to be heard. It limits the range of things you can do in a story.
My point is that I don't see the sense in absolutes. There are certainly some audio stories that don't need narration, but there are also plenty that do. And you have more versatility if you allow for both. There are parts in Tangent Knights where I enjoyed the effect of writing without narration -- for instance, there's a bit in Book 2 where a character gets a startling bit of news and I convey their reaction purely through the sound of them running out the door and down the hallway at top speed -- but there are plenty of parts that absolutely needed narration. It's not a zero-sum question.
When it comes to Doctor Who, that's a franchise that often does rely on visuals, like the designs of its aliens and monsters and worlds and costumes. I often find such things frustratingly vague in the audios. It's easy to talk about conjuring things with your imagination, but the imagination still needs a starting point, some rough idea of what category of thing we're imagining, and the DW audios often fail to provide even that, or at least don't do so until episode 3 or something, at which point I have to throw out whatever mental image I've formed because it was completely off-base -- say, if I was imagining a reptilian species and it turns out to be insectoid, or if I was imagining a big, boxy robot on treads and it turns out to be small and hovering.
And yet sound effects simulate fictional things all the time. As a kid I had an entire BBC Sci-Fi sound effects tape of things that don’t exist.
By use of dialogue and context. So a character might say “Computer, activate the force-field” or “Don’t worry, I know how to drive this thing” and the intention becomes clear. It's entirely possible to write explanatory lines that don't feel forced or info-dumpy. Then once you establish what that sound effect represents, you don’t need to explain it again.
But isn’t insisting that audio stories “work best” with narration also limiting the way a story is told? And in addition, I wonder if stories that must rely heavily on setting and visuals to be told might be better suited to mediums other than audio, but that's a whole other conversation...
Again, not so. Monologues are not narration, and there’s no reason why a character can’t have one in a non-narrated audio. I did exactly this when I worked on the Cyberman series for Big Finish - we gave each character a monologue as a kind of "chapter break" in each of the episodes.
As for the scenes you describe, all of those could be done without narration, it’s just a matter of the framing. The structure is only limiting if you allow it to be.
I’ve never said it was. You only need to look at my work in this medium: of the 30+ audio dramas I’ve written, about half of them have a narrator or a narration element. In those cases, that form worked best for those stories, so I used it.
But my larger point is, narration is not mandatory in this medium. It is not a necessity. Audio can clearly work with it, or without it... But apparently, in the latter case, not for you personally.
Hollywood had decades of popular and successful audio dramas that had no narration. These days we call it old time radio, and a lot of it is still fun to listen to. The absence of narration is not a flaw, it's a convention that people these days aren't as used to, but people in the 1940s managed just fine with it.
Now you're being disingenuous. The point is that you got to see what those sound effects represented. I'm talking about context, whether they're enough by themselves to let you know what they represent.
Which isn't always enough. My point is that I've listened to many Who audios where there was not enough dialogue or context to understand what the sounds represented, where you just heard a bunch of noises and had to wait until it was done before there was any dialogue explaining what the hell it was supposed to be. If the context doesn't come until after the fact, it's just annoying.
Yes, of course it is. I'm just saying it isn't always enough. You're still talking as though this were some all-or-nothing question. My point is that it makes no sense to limit yourself to only one option, to omit a useful tool from your kit. I don't disagree with you that dialogue and context can be useful. I'm just saying that narration can also be valuable. They aren't warring options. They're just different tools in the kit, and what I'm saying is that I see no point in throwing out one of your tools.
Again the absolutes. I don't believe in blanket generalizations. Some audio stories work best with narration. Others don't need it. I just don't see the value in ruling out the option entirely.
Doesn't that describe Doctor Who, though, since it's fundamentally a TV franchise?
Then I really have no idea why you're jumping down my throat just for saying narration isn't evil.
I never said it was!!!! I just object to the lack of narration being mandatory. Why is it that, whenever I say I prefer the middle ground to one extreme, everybody mistakes that for an endorsement of the opposite extreme?
On the contrary, old-time radio used narration all the time. The Superman radio show, for instance, often had Jackson Beck narrate what was happening in the action scenes, and would routinely have him introduce new scenes to set the stage. And when they didn't use narration, they relied on very stilted dialogue, to which narration would've been preferable.
Some OTR may have used narration all the time. Not all of it. I've been listening to OTR since the 1980s.
This is now a very individual standpoint and just how it is for me: Doctor Who as audio how Big Finish usually does it does work for me EXACTLY because Doctor Who is what it is. I have a sense of the basic "style" or tendency what stuff in DW looks like, I already got the starting point for my imagination. It´s always "throwing you out of the story a bit" if something you imagined one way gets contradicted later, but thats not limited to narration-less audio, isn´t it? It happens to me with novels and other stuff too.
"Why limit ones tool kit?", using all tools one has at his disposal may be great most of the time. But limiting it on purpose may also spark creativity. And the rest basically boils down to preference?
No, I was actually thinking of effects from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Earthsearch radio shows when I wrote that.
I've never presented anything as 'warring options' in this discussion. If I suggest something, it doesn't mean I'm trying to enforce a rule, I'm simply pointing out alternatives. Audio is a rich medium, there's a hundred ways to tell a story with it, and the form it takes should be whatever works best for the material. I'd never attempt to to lay down the law by saying there's a right way or a wrong way to do it.
I'm wary of contributing to more thread drift here, but it occurs to me that this discussion keeps touching on the Big Finish Doctor Who audio dramas and it's worth pointing out that those are just one (admittedly very good) stream of quality audio drama out there - and while we're waiting for No Man's Land there's a lot of great stuff presented in a variety of formats that's also worth a listen.
As well as many DW spin-offs, Big Finish also produce audio dramas and audio books based on a bunch of other Cult TV properties; there's GraphicAudio with their 'audio movies'; lots of good "dramatic podcasts" on Audible and Apple; and if you can access it, a wealth of material from the BBC Radio archives.
Personally, I'd recommend anything by Dirk Maggs (who has worked on Hitchhiker's Guide, Sandman, Alien, numerous superhero serials and a great spin-off to the movie Independence Day!), Steal the Stars from Tor Labs, the serials at Realm.fm (formerly Serial Box), Passenger List from Radiotopia and the Marvel dramas on Stitcher.
Christopher, I would be very interested in hearing your reaction to the podcast Welcome to Night Vale. It's a sci-fi/horror comedy-drama fiction podcast done in the style of a community radio news program, about a community where every conspiracy theory and sci-fi/horror trope is true. Think of it as Stephen King meets NPR.
The reason I bring it up is that a huge amount of the artistic success of Welcome to Night Vale derives from the ability to evoke images in the audience's minds without actually describing anything in specificity. Sometimes Night Value uses de facto narration in the form of Cecil's broadcasts, but sometimes it doesn't.
It first aired ten years ago, and it's available on YouTube. Here is a playlist of Year One. The first two episodes are a little rough, but it really starts to find its voice in episode 3, "Station Management." And episode 13, "A Story About You," is one of my favorite stories in all of fiction.
As I've been saying over and over, I never said that doing a story without narration could never work; I just think that in the case of Doctor Who audios, the lack of narration is frequently -- not always, but frequently -- an impediment, and I find it artificial to rule out the option when it could be beneficial.
In the case of a horror/thriller thing like you're describing, obviously lack of specificity is a good thing. Alfred Hitchcock certainly knew that what the audience doesn't see is scarier than what they do see. But not all fiction is the same. There are other kinds of stories where it is preferable to have a clear visual sense of things, like in my Tangent Knights series where evoking the visual specifics of tokusatsu costume designs, action sequences, and locations is an important part of the tale. And Doctor Who covers a wide range of stories, so sometimes the lack of visual clarity is more of a problem than other times. I'm arguing against absolutes; I think more flexibility about the use of narration would be beneficial.
I cited how it's often unclear what a monster or an alien world is supposed to look like from sound effects and the odd bit of dialogue alone, but another case where it's often a problem for me is in the historical tales. Now, presumably British listeners would know what kind of costuming or scenery to imagine in something set around, say, the English Civil War or something, because they would've seen historical dramas about it and studied it in history classes growing up; but there were stories where I didn't know enough about the period to imagine what things looked like. It's best for stories not to assume their audience knows things, because there will always be some who need explanations more than others.
To be clear, I didn't bring up Night Vale to argue against what you were saying per se; I did want to point out one element that seemingly differs from your stated preference for visual specificity, but I also tried to point out that Night Vale at many other points adheres to your desire for a narrator or a narrator-like device.
I would, as I said, be really interested in hearing your reaction to the show and how it uses different aural devices to tell its tales.
Again, I'm not speaking in general about every audiobook. I'm not saying it always has to be done one way. I'm just saying it doesn't make sense to me to avoid narration in those specific cases where it would help.
Yeah, I get it. I'm not arguing with you. I'm soliciting your opinion on a podcast that does exactly what you're describing by not exclusively doing things one way or the other.
Sorry, I'm not a fan of that genre.
I've been wanting a Star Trek audio drama for a while now, so I'm really happy we're finally getting one.
I actually just started listening to audio dramas last year, but I found I really enjoy them. So far I've listened to one Doctor Who: Fourth Doctor story from Big Finish, one of the old Capt. Sulu kinda half audio-drama half audiobooks Simon & Schuster did, and I'm about halfway through the first season of Marvel's Wolverine scripted podcast.
My only disappointment is that's it's being sold through Audible instead of being released as a free podcast I could listen to on Spotify.
But this way I can download a permanent copy, instead of only having a few weeks or months to listen to it before it disappears.
Patch the headphone output of your computer into the audio recording device of your choice.
The Marvel podcasts on Spotify have been on there for years.
Separate names with a comma.