The Full Cast vs Audio Drama ‘Debate’
I normally use this feed to release the podcast, but since a topic I am close to is being discussed on twitter, I thought a posting here would be more productive than 140 characters at a time. Truncation limits meanings and I probably sound snippy on twitter, which is never my intent.
The Parsec Awards first posed the question: What is the difference between Full Cast and Audio Drama?
Several people (who I respect, else I’d not have been following them) began debating the difference, and it was clear to me that the consensus people were reaching was that the difference was that audio dramas have more music and sound effects than full cast audio stories. I can see how this is assumed. I would imagine that in many cases people who have listened to both have noticed that audio dramas typically have more production put into them. But that is a false assumption based on a strong correlation (like saying all scientists are men because all the ones you have met or seen on TV were men).
Fortunately there is a rather simple way to define the difference, and that is the source material. Look at the text it was made from.
Doroth left Kithifth, marvelling at his own ability to end up on both sides of any conflict. He remembered a saying his father once repeated before his new brood had forced Doroth out and into service of the city. “Those in the thick of it make the gears turn, but they are also the ones to be caught and crushed by them on occasion.” As if to give sound to his thought, Doroth heard the largest gear in the whole of the city start to turn as the great lift began to descend. He had just missed it, but despite the heavy rain, he was in no hurry to set this particular wheel in motion. He wandered along the cliff’s edge to wait, stopping a stone’s throw from the wooden lift platform.
In the dark of the night, the city looked like a spattering of stars. In time, they would wink out as the deep parts of the night came to be, but this late evening view was both enchanting and comforting. It made him think, somewhat unexpectedly, of Triss. It was her eyes he remembered, always full of questions. They’d been passionate, as new mated pairs tended to be, but in the end he had known very little about her. In those intimate moments, she’d asked him about everything; his dreams, his desires, his passions. He always answered, but never thought to ask them of her in return. Was that bad of him? Did it mean that deep down he did not respect her? Would he forget Triss altogether one day? If he tried to conjure more than her eyes in his mind, he saw her dead body as it was lowered in its net into the ground.
“She is alive.”
“What?” Startled, Doroth turned to see who had come to be beside him.
Standing in his usual red silk tunic with black trim, bare emerald arms well muscled and streaked with blood-red markings, Vorcyth’s fat nostrils flared above his wide jaw in amusement. “Sekathia. Like a living thing. Breathing, eating, defecating.“ He swept an arm across their view.
Doroth stood straight, trying to match Vorcyth’s proud posture. “And how does it look to you? Healthy? Hungry?”
“It looks damaged, like it has taken a blow to the head.”
“You helped to deal that blow.”
Doroth blinked in confusion. “If you regret what we did to your brother, why did you not warn him?”
“Xavath had to be removed. That does not mean I enjoyed seeing it happen.”
The rivalry between Xavath and Vorcyth was well known across all of Sekathia. Never had a more famed or surprising fallout between brothers occurred in their history. Doroth had learned of it from his father. “Someday you’ll have to tell me how you fell out of your brother’s favor.”
“It would take a great deal of bloodwine to get me to tell that story.” Vorcyth laughed as he picked at the base of the knife at his belt. “I do not doubt you have interesting stories of your own. You were officially made my equal, and I had never heard of you.”
“I was never one to seek attention or accolades. I just try to do what is right.”
“If that were true you would not be huntmaster.” Vorcyth’s grin was reminiscent of Kithifth’s; confident and fearless, with a flash of teeth.
Doroth frowned. “Have you come to inspect me, then?”
“You can call it what you want. I need to know if you are an ally.”
The lift went silent. The cage had reached the floor far below them. “Whose ally? Sekathia’s or yours?”
“Both. Do not forget that between you and I, we control Sekathia. The army may be halved between us, but when we have a common goal nothing can stop us.”
The cage began to rise anew. “Then it seems an honest dialogue would serve us well.” He could hear, deep within, Triss asking his next words in a soft whisper. “What is it that you desire?”
Vorcyth did not answer right away. Doroth could almost feel the measuring gaze. “To see my brother dead. Again. And to be better than he was.”
“You want to be chief reptile?”
“I don’t care about titles. I only want to be respected as he was.”
“Many respected him out of fear.”
“Fear can serve a purpose, Doroth. But I am not as cruel as my brother, if that is what you are asking. His reputation was his alone. That is true of all of us.”
Doroth nodded in understanding, but offered no more words as the lift continued its slow ascent. Vorcyth made no effort to interrupt his thoughts.
When the cage arrived at last, Doroth called for it to hold for him before turning to his fellow huntmaster. “Are you going this way?”
“No,” said Vorcyth. “I heard you were near, and came this way for no other purpose. I’ve already seen my warriors off and tasked them for the new day. I aim to find some bloodwine and a dry place so I can enjoy the remains of the night. Think on what I have said. While we serve the Night Tongue, its power lies with us now.”
Doroth walked to the cage, which was closed behind him by the old lift operator, a male who smelled of waste and eggs. Two females had arrived to descend as well, carrying a shared skin over their heads. Doroth nodded to them politely and thought once more of Triss. He’d asked Vorcyth what his desires were, and it had not occurred to his fellow huntmaster to ask the same in return. It was just as well, because Doroth would have lied.
[[Sound of approaching footsteps. Slow sound of lift being lowered in the background Sound of rainfall throughout.]]
Vorcyth She is alive.
Vorcyth Sekathia. Like a living thing. Breathing, eating, defecating.
Doroth And how does it look to you? Healthy? Hungry?
Vorcyth It looks damaged, like it has taken a blow to the head.
Doroth You helped to deal that blow.
Doroth If you regret what we did to your brother, why did you not warn him?
Vorcyth Xavath had to be removed. That does not mean I enjoyed seeing it happen.
Doroth * beat* Someday you’ll have to tell me how you fell out of your brother’s favor.
Vorcyth It would take a great deal of bloodwine to get me to tell that story. *laugh* I do not doubt you have interesting stories of your own. You were officially made my equal, and I had never heard of you.
Doroth I was never one to seek attention or accolades. I just try to do what is right.
Vorcyth If that were true you would not be huntmaster.
Doroth Have you come to inspect me, then?
Vorcyth You can call it what you want. I need to know if you are an ally.
[[Sound of lift reaching ground far below]]
Doroth Whose ally? Sekathia’s or yours?
Vorcyth Both. Do not forget that between you and I, we control Sekathia. The army may be halved between us, but when we have a common goal nothing can stop us.
[[Sound of lift rising again]]
Doroth Then it seems an honest dialogue would serve us well.What is it that you desire?
Vorcyth *long pause* To see my brother dead. Again. And to be better than he was.
Doroth You want to be chief reptile?
Vorcyth I don’t care about titles. I only want to be respected as he was.
Doroth Many respected him out of fear.
Vorcyth Fear can serve a purpose, Doroth. But I am not as cruel as my brother, if that is what you are asking. His reputation was his alone. That is true of all of us.
[[sound of lift rising, reaching top]]
Doroth Yell: Hold! Normal: Are you going this way?
Vorcyth No. I heard you were near, and came this way for no other purpose. I’ve already seen my warriors off and tasked them for the new day. I aim to find some bloodwine and a dry place so I can enjoy the remains of the night. Think on what I have said. While we serve the Night Tongue, its power lies with us now.
[[sound of walking and lift closing and beginning to lower]]
Sample A is a scene from “Malcontent”, which I am currently casting as a full cast audiobook. Sample B is a rough conversion to script form.
The way I would define full cast audio story vs audio drama is the source material. If the audience hears A, it would require 3 voices (Doroth, Vorcyth, and Narrator) and be a full cast audio story. If the audience hears B, it would require 2 (Doroth, Vorcyth) and the sounds of the rain and the lift would be the only description of those things in the scene. Now, here’s the thing. If I use the EXACT SAME sound effects from B and put them into A while maintaining the narrator who references the rain and the lift, it is still a full cast audio story. Why? Because you can read along with text A, which is prose and not a script. It is a presentation of the original text, only with advanced production levels. There is a clear difference. In B, the conflicted internal thoughts are lost because there is no way to present them. The clue is usually the narrator, but some scripts have a narrator pop in here and there, so that can lead to grey areas. The Leviathan Chronicles is a good example of an audio drama with a narrator.
The best part? A simple glance at the script tells you which one it is. The written formats are completely different!
Now, some people may try and argue that putting in a lot of sound effects and music is not a full cast audio story, and that they must be as bare as a straight narration, only with a few more voices. I strongly disagree. This is a minimal approach, and I fully respect that some may prefer to hear a story this way, but it is not the amount of production that defines the form. I’m sure we could break down into further categories (minimal full cast, full cast with moderate sound effects, full cast with a soundscape typical of an audio drama). The reason more audio dramas have higher production values is that they are required to describe things through sound. If the audience doesn’t understand that the static sound is rain or the grinding, squeaking sound is a giant lift, then the scene is not being presented well enough to comprehend. The medium has a higher standard. That does not mean the full cast audio story can’t meet the same standard of production. It just means it takes a certain kind of producer to go there. I think James Durham and J. Daniel Sawyer are good examples of people who do. I hope to be one too with this story.
The thing is, since I work on producing full cast audio stories (most notably with The Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine) as well as audio drama (HG World) the differences and parallels between the two forms on the production end are blatantly obvious to me. I can see how strong production sounds like strong production to many listeners (and that such strong production has a previous association with audio drama) but I hope that as full cast gains popularity among talented producers it can begin to be recognized as its own form that is as true to the original text as it can manage.