Family gathered around listening to a fiction podcast at home

How To Turn Your Novel Into A Podcast

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Unlocking the Art of Storytelling Through Fiction Podcasts

With the launch of Handsome Molly and the subsequent engaging listening party at WORD Vancouver, we’ve delved deep into adapting novels into fiction podcasts, exploring a realm filled with endless creative possibilities.

In our launch post, we discussed why it was important to us to make Handsome Molly, based on the novel Restoring Harmony by Joëlle Anthony. What we didn’t talk about as much was the how.

Miss the memo? Fear not. Here’s everything you need to know to turn your novel into a podcast, just like we did with Handsome Molly.

Person engrossed in listening to a fiction podcast in a busy city

Step 1: Decide if there’s enough to make an audio adaptation.

We hate to break it to you, but not every book will make a fantastic podcast. You can certainly try, but there needs to be a few critical ingredients for it to translate well. First, you need to look for the sound opportunities.

In Restoring Harmony, the main character is a fiddle player. That’s basically a rich sound tapestry being handed to podcast directors and sound engineers on a silver platter.

Then, look at the locations of various scenes. Can they be built out by excellent sound engineering? Are they interesting enough to captivate an audience through their imagination, with some audio assistance? Has it been done before, or are you breaking ground into a unique setting?

Few podcasts are set in the Pacifc North West, and fewer still on the Gulf Islands. Add in the dystopian near-future, and you have the potential for a captivating “sonic setting.”

Finally, consider the journey of the characters themselves. Once you strip down the written context and description, is the journey of the main character enough to drive the story forward and keep listeners engaged? When you move from the more descriptive text of a novel into the dialogue-driven form of audio drama, plot events and “forward momentum” become more important. And, if you see opportunities for cliff-hangers at the end of each episode — grab them!

If the novel has “good bones”, you can take some creative freedom to build a more substantial base when it comes to the audio adaptation. For example, in Handsome Molly, not only is there the unique representation of a 14-year-old girl heading out on a life-changing, coming-of-age, save-the-world-type adventure, but she was adapted to have more relevance to today’s young teenage audiences, with her Japanese-Canadian cultural background, and her budding love interest with a non-binary character named Spill.

When you think you’ve found a winner, remember to find your core pillars and threads throughout the book. It will be necessary to continually return to those key pieces when transforming the written into the recorded.

“With Handsome Molly, we were always aware that this was a story about a girl from a sheltered community finding her way in the larger — more dangerous world. It’s about her putting her small town values to the test.”

Step 2: Turn the book into a script. 

It might sound like a quick snap of the fingers, but step two is the most crucial of all the steps and will likely take the longest. Not only do you have to read an entire novel (phew!), but then, you have to parse it down. If this is your novel, be prepared to — in the words of Stephen King — “kill your darlings,” and make changes to shift the book into a performance-based medium. If it’s someone else’s novel who is involved, prepare them for (and get them on board with) making some drastic changes.

Here’s why:

You need to pare the book down to amplify the driving action and simplify the context and storyline. It needs to move forward from the first minute it hits the listener’s ears. Otherwise, you lose them.

Books give a lot of context. We readers need it to picture the scene vividly in our minds’ eyes. When it comes to audio, you need to decide how to give context by using dialogue, tone, and sound effects rather than text.

There are two things you need to do with those tools:

  1. Convey action
  2. Convey the intention of the characters themselves

Especially for fiction podcasts, the soundscape is part of the script as well. Make sure it does its job in driving the story forward, too.

You have the power to create a world by using sound effects that listeners can immerse themselves in. Something as simple as walking in high heels can tell your audience everything they need to know. Are the steps confident? Hushed? Off-balance? Include these aspects into the script to build a rich sound tapestry for your audience and bring the story to life.

Some forewarning:

You can’t rely solely on sound effects to make everything clear to your audience. An explosion is just a bunch of noise until you hear someone say, “GET DOWN! IT’S GONNA BLOW!” You still need to add some context with dialogue. Otherwise, you risk your audience getting lost in the rubble.

Here’s a tip: Think theatre.

In theatre, a character needs intention and viewers need to know what that intention is — intention creates forward momentum. For Handsome Molly, we brought in Chop Theatre to help with the adaptation. While the novelist provided us with a first draft of the book in serialized form, the pros at Chop knew how to add the drive and push the characters needed to have it work in a performance medium.

Remember your chosen threads as you rework the book into a script. Ensure you always come back to your pillars no matter how you adapt, embellish, or take creative control.

Step 3: Transform the raw scene into a rough cut. 

Once you have your script, bring in the voice actors! There are plenty of different ways voice actors function when it comes to recording. They can work alone in the studio or, like we did for Handsome Molly, have a few come together. That way, actors can play off each other and get a better feel for the real character relationships you’re trying to create in the show.

Including a rich soundscape in the script will also help your actors. They’ll be able to envision the scene they’re trying to create and better immerse themselves in that imaginary circumstance portrayed in the script.

Crafting Soundscapes for Fiction Podcasts

Step 4: Let the audio wizards do their thing. 

Once all is said, done, and recorded, it’s time for your sound engineers to build out the incredible world you’ve outlined (and to clip together all the spoken scenes). With your script’s help, they’ll be able to bring to life that world you imagined, complete with sound effects and the proper delivery from your actors.

Et voila! A novel adapted to a podcast. Easy right? Not so much.

The Hardest Parts: 

Here are the most significant challenges we faced when adapting Handsome Molly, which you can learn from.

Sifting through the text.

There is so much description in a book! We had to consider everything in the text and determine what parts we wanted to say, what elements could be conveyed with sound effects and audio tools, and which to take out completely.

Boiling down the novel.

We’re not saying novels contain a lot of fluff, but there can certainly be a lot of extra things going on in a written story. Our challenge was to get it down to its bare, essential bones that would keep the story moving forward, ultimately engaging our audience the entire way through.

Reducing setup to get to the action.

With podcasts, you can’t waste a listener’s time with a bunch of setup and context. They’ll get bored! We needed to get to the action FAST — which is why we chose to start Handsome Molly with her stepping on an airplane. You need to walk the fine line between setting things up contextually and cutting to the chase.

Focusing on the central character. 

A podcast can have a lot of side characters in it, but your audience will mostly care about just one — the central character. You need your audience to follow and love that main person. While we loved so many of the characters in Restoring Harmony, our task for Handsome Molly was to spend less time exploring the context for other characters and making Molly as relatable and adventure-driven as possible (which is why we killed her father — but you’ll have to listen to the show for more of that!).

Think you’re ready to adapt your novel? 

If you want to hear what the process of raw script to final product involves and sounds like, check out this YouTube video recording from our listening party at WORD Vancouver. You even get to hear a bit of Q&A with the masterminds behind Handsome Molly and enjoy live readings from a few of the voice actors.

When it comes to podcasts, fiction and novel adaptations aren’t just fun; they’re a whole new world of possibilities to create amazing shows and captivate an entirely new audience base.

5 Key Takeaways on Adapting Novels into Fiction Podcasts:

  1. Selecting Content with Audio Potential: Not every novel is suitable for a podcast adaptation. Identifying novels with rich audio possibilities, such as distinctive sounds and dynamic settings, is crucial.
  2. Adapting for Audio: The transition from text to audio requires significant adaptation to maintain narrative momentum and engage listeners effectively. This includes focusing on dialogue and direct action rather than descriptive text.
  3. Importance of Sound Design: Effective sound design is essential in fiction podcasts to create immersive environments and enhance storytelling, making the narrative vivid and engaging without visual elements.
  4. The Role of Voice Actors: Skilled voice actors play a critical role in bringing characters to life in fiction podcasts, with their ability to convey emotion and intention adding depth to the audio experience.
  5. Streamlining the Story: Adapting a novel into a podcast often involves condensing the content to focus on key narratives and driving the story forward quickly to maintain listener interest.

By: Laurissa Cebryk

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