Why Intimacy is Key When You're Writing for Audio


Let’s talk about your ears.

I’m not saying they’re big or anything – I just think we should give them a little focus. Chiefly because they’re often neglected. And not just when you wash.

Let me explain. On Monday I went to see Isy Suttie’s one-woman show based on her new book, The Actual One, and it got me thinking about how great audio storytelling works.

I should say outright that I am a big fan of radio comedy (well, I do make a comedy podcast), and that Suttie is probably the most aurally exciting comedian I’ve come across.

If you’ve seen her live, or heard her radio shows, you’ll already know that she specialises in quirky, personal stories that are peopled by an array of distinctively-voiced characters, and peppered with acoustic songs that are as plot-efficient as they are funny.

Listening to her feels like having your ears tickled did when you were five; giggly, gorgeous, and completely moreish.

After the show, I found this episode of Sound Women, where Suttie talks about her Edinburgh show Pearl and Dave, and the experience of adapting it into a Sony-winning radio pilot.

In the interview, she’s asked if she ever worried the show wouldn’t translate – whether the story might lose something important with the departure of a set and a performer to look at. Her answer is unexpected.

“I didn’t really think about that. I’d always worked quite hard on the [characters’] voices and, if anything, sometimes when I did it as a stage show I used to feel like there wasn’t that much for the audience to look at. In a way, it was always more suited to audio.”

She goes on to talk about one of the biggest strengths of audio storytelling – its capacity for intimacy – and how common it is for creators to drop the ball on exploiting this.

“You don’t ever want the audience at home to feel excluded. When I’m listening to radio comedy, I sometimes feel like ‘Oh, I wasn’t there….’ It can feel like a recording of a past event that you’re listening to, rather than something alive, and I want it to feel alive and intimate, like I’m just talking to that person.”

If you’re working on something that’s designed to be heard – a radio script or a speech – it’s worth bearing this in mind.

As with any sort of content creation, writing great audio is all about working your medium.

What audio enthusiasts love about the format is that, more than any other, it makes us feel like we’re in a fascinating conversation where we’re the only one being spoken to. It puts us right back in our childhood bedrooms, listening to a story that’s just for us.

Make your content personal and intimate, with plenty of relatable images and lively anecdotes, and you can make every one of your listeners feel like the most important person in the room.

The Actual One tour has now closed. But you can still get the audiobook on Audible or download Pearl and Dave from iTunes.

[This post was originally published on 25 Feb 2016]