I like a good fiction podcast from time to time. They’re good company when you’re working through something long and drudgey at work, and when they’re done well, they’re excellent. My paragon for audio presentation of fiction is BBC4extra. Understandably, since it’s a huge, professional organisation. But there are a lot of skilled independent and amateur efforts out there that are usually well worth your listening time.
Both Clarkesworld and Lightspeed/Fantasy are cementing their place at the forefront of the genre by providing audio versions of the stories they publish, while Dark Fiction is solely dedicated to podcasting horror stories. And then, of course there are the stalwarts of the audio side of the genres: Starshipsofa and the EscapePod/PodCastle/PseudoPod triumvirate.
It’s great to have so much choice, but I have to admit that listening to so much of it I have started to get frustrated with certain aspects of the way stories are presented. Here are my top four ways to ruin a story (for me).
1/If you’re using a microphone that produces hiss or noise, leave it be. Some productions use a drop-out filter that zeros the output whenever it detects a pause. The idea is that it removes the hiss when there’s no speaking, but all it ends up doing is calling attention to it. And making the listener seasick.
2/ Do the research. Get the pronunciation right. I know there are cultural differences between locales (esp, the UK and the USA), but it doesn’t take a lot of research to get some basic things right. I could imagine a non-local scratching their heads over how to pronounce place names like, say, Kirkcudbright or Milngavie, but – seriously – who doesn’t know how to pronounce “Thames”? And when it comes to normal words, there’s no excuse. This week I’ve TWICE heard “buoyed” pronounced “boo-ey-ed”. WTF?
3/Don’t do voices. It’s not a dramatisation, it’s a reading. Unless you’re a professional voice actor, don’t try accents. Men, don’t read female speech in falsetto, and women – don’t press your chin to your chest and speak as low as you can for male parts. It sounds rubbish, and it’s not necessary.
4/ And don’t over-dramatise. For me, nothing kills the performance (and the story) faster than a breathy melodramatic delivery. You can get all the drama you need from timing and subtle use of emphasis. Just tell the story, and it will do the rest of the work for you.
And now that’s off my chest, I return you to your scheduled listening programme.