by Diane Leverich
Before even beginning this list, let’s answer an important question: what is a dramatic podcast, anyway?
If a podcast is a radio show on demand, then a dramatic podcast or audio drama is a modern version of a classic radio play. If you’re too young to remember radio plays, they’re basically television shows for your ears. Unwritten, for example, uses a large cast to play the different roles in an ongoing story that crosses multiple genres like drama and comedy, all the while dealing with important themes and issues.
The genre “dramatic podcast” or “audio drama” is a relatively new concept in literary art, and at first, the podcasts themselves can be a little overwhelming. Podcasts are most often audio only, and with so many voices, sound effects, narrations, and scene changes, it’s easy to lose yourself in the confusion and end up wondering: what exactly is going on here?
The good news is that dramatic podcasts usually follow their own formulas to make the experience consistent across episodes and as easy as possible for their listeners. We’ve identified some helpful tips for the next time you find yourself listening to a dramatic podcast (such as Unwritten). Keep these tips in mind to improve your listening experience:
1. Listen for the establishment of characters in the first episode.
The first episode is important to establishing the tone, laying the groundwork for the setting, and introducing the characters. Multiple voices without visual cues can be confusing at times, so don’t listen to the first episode when you are sleepy! Character introductions may include the narrator or another main character describing the physical attributes, as well as any important information the listener may need to know about the characters, i.e. Chelsea is Elaine’s best friend. Try your best to remember the names of each character, but a well-written dramatic podcast will incorporate the names of the characters throughout the dialogue. For instance, in Unwritten, Elaine may call out to Chelsea or say her nickname Chels throughout the dialogue of a given episode.
2. Pay attention to the narrator–she/he will help you through the story.
If there is a narrator, she/he is essentially your tour guide; she/he will guide you through the plot line with appropriately timed commentary. Listen closely to what the narrator has to say–she/he can reveal the inner thoughts of the characters, denote physical movement or interaction, paint a picture of the surroundings, and provide further information that is essential to the story.
Note: if the podcast you’ve chosen doesn’t have a narrator, the process of understanding the plot line may be a little trickier. In this case, pay particular attention to dialogue and sound effects used throughout, as they will provide clues to the events occurring in each scene.
3. Take note of the descriptions of settings or locations.
Just like a television show or movie, some dramatic podcasts take place in several different locations. It is important to take note of the various settings in which the characters interact, as the characters may return to or reference a particular setting later on in the plot. The good news is that the narrators or characters will likely state the setting or location, and there may be some accompanying sound effects to bring the setting to life.
4. Replay the podcast story.
Not everyone has the time to sit through a dramatic podcast more than once–we’re all busy people! However, consider revisiting a podcast after your initial impression to help you deepen your understanding of the story. Listening to the podcast a second time can allow you to soak in different information and nuance that you may have missed the first time around. Plus, if the story is compelling, why wouldn’t you want to hear it all over again?!
5. Don’t freak out!
As mentioned above, dramatic podcasts are an emerging art form. You are not the only one who is new to the idea, so don’t panic! Once you settle into the podcast, let’s say for about 10 – 15 minutes, you’ll get the hang of it. The key to understanding the plot of a dramatic podcast is to listen carefully and remain attentive. And, as always, think about the message the show conveys.
Here are a variety of dramatic podcasts to get you started:
Good luck and happy listening!