As someone who had never read a script in their life before writing a podcast, the writing was definitely one of the parts that gave me the most anxiety. I was worried that there were resources and tips and tricks I had no idea of, and didn’t even know where to look.
So the first thing I want to say is: you don’t have to have any kind of previous experience to be a good writer and storyteller! As social creatures whose cultures are literally built around stories, who bond over stories and who consume them regularly, you already have an innate sense of what a good story is. If you’re a prolific reader, watcher of movies/TV, or listener of fiction podcasts, all of that time you’ve spent consuming stories is honing your intuitive sense for what works and what doesn’t, even if you don’t know the academic terms for why it works.
That said, you can find the following on this page to help you refine those instincts and translate them into good audio stories:
- Resources specific to writing for fiction podcasts
- Resources for storytelling & writing for actual play podcasts
- General writing resources
- How to format your podcast scripts
- Writing apps/software
Podcast specific resources
As you can imagine, there isn’t a ton out there yet that’s specifically aimed at writing for fiction podcasts. However, there are a few things:
- Bombs Always Beep, an ebook by KC Wayland (now available in print form too)
- Start With This, a new podcast from the creators of Welcome to Night Vale (a lot of the exercises can be applied to any creative project, but it’s heavily contextualized through their work on WTNV and other fiction podcasts)
- Advice for Radio Drama Beginners via Gabriel Urbina, of Wolf 359 (who also has some other great resources on character creation and story structure)
- How is narration in audio a useful tool?
Storytelling & writing for DMs/GMs and actual play
When you’re a GM of an actual play podcast, the game itself is your medium as much as the audio created by you and the players is. Because of this, I definitely recommend reading up about mechanics and thinking about whether the metaphors and mechanics built into your game support the kind of story you’re trying to tell. Some games are more of a “blank palette” than others, but it’s still worth thinking critically about. (I wrote a little bit about how I think about this for Serendipity City here, and I’ll probably write more in the future.)
Given that, I definitely recommend the following resources for learning more:
- Stop Hack & Roll (particularly their episode on true genre)
- Modifier podcast
- The Roleplaying Game Design Panelcast
- RPG Design Friends podcast
Other resources I’ve found useful for improving the ways I think about telling stories through games (including actual play media) include:
- This thread on interactive storytelling (written by someone who makes videogames, but still very useful)
- The Tips at the Table podcast by the Friends at the Table crew isn’t free (it unlocks at $5/month on their Patreon) but I’ve found it thought-provoking & super useful, and it has insights for both players & DMs
- Listening to other DMs talk on podcasts (including I Am Hear and Game Closet)
And, as mentioned up top, just hearing other people who are amazing GMs do it well will change the way you think about your craft and help hone it. I recommend listening to other actual plays for that reason (and to support your fellow creators!). Some of my faves (outside of the very popular Friends at the Table and the Adventure Zone) are Unexplored Places, Ghostpuncher Corps, Party of One, Halcyon Station, and the Magpies. You can find a lot more at RPGCasts.
General writing/storytelling resources:
- Writing Excuses is one of my favorite writing resources and the only writing podcast I regularly listen to. It’s down-to-earth & focused on the craft of writing. The episodes are short (20m or less) and every one ends with an exercise. Some of the ones I’ve found most useful are the three-prong character development episodes, the elemental genre episodes, and the MICE quotient (touched on again here).
- A lot of people find resources created for screenplays to be useful for podcast writing; The Anatomy of Story comes highly recommended by people I trust.
- While they’re resources intended for prose, I found Write Your Novel From the Middle and Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing (which is at least partially inspired by the Anatomy of Story) both helpful for thinking analytically about structure and how it impacts character development.
Miscellaneous writing-related posts/tidbits/articles I found helpful:
- How to Revise for Structure
- The Beat Sheet Calculator
- Character development charting tool
- Sanderson’s First Law (of magic systems in fiction)
- Brainstorming the Wound in Your Character’s Backstory
- The Writing With Color tumblr is a great resource on how to avoid basic errors when writing characters of color (their tropes/stereotypes to avoid masterlist is here)
- Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions
Formatting for podcast scripts
- This was another big hang-up for me when I started, but guess what: there’s no set format for podcast scripts!
- A lot of people use screenplay formatting for their podcasts – here’s more info on that. (I find screenplay formatting hard to use/learn, and it messes with my creative flow, so I just write with sound notes in (italicized parentheses) and make it clear who’s talking when.)
- The important thing is making sure that it makes sense and conveys the necessary information to you and anyone else you’re working with. If that’s good, then don’t worry about it.
Writing software & apps
- Gingko (free, online) is great for brainstorming and seeing structure at multiple levels
- Notebook.ai (free, online) is great for worldbuilding and saving/organizing your worldbuilding notes
- I like to save inspiration in an Evernote (free version available, online with app options) notebook, tagged with whatever project I think they might work for. I also have an ongoing “swipe file” note where I’ll jot down any random ideas I have so that I can return to them later and flesh them out, or look at it when I’m feeling uninspired and not sure what to work on next.
- MindMeister is a free mind-mapping tool
Ask six writers what their favorite writing tool is and you’ll get ten different opinions. Here’s a few options:
- Draft (free, online) has version control and a minimal interface
- Novlr ($10/month, online) is intended for novels but has some intriguing organization features,
- Scrivener ($45, Mac, Windows, iOS) is a common favorite but can have a steep learning curve
- Ulysses ($5/mo or $40/yr, Mac, iOS) is my personal favorite for its intuitive and minimal interface but is Mac only
- Don’t get caught up on the tool, though — notebooks and/or Google Docs is plenty if you’re happy with it!
For writing in screenplay format:
- WriterDuet comes highly recommended for collaborating and for intuitive interface
- FadeIn doesn’t have the same collaborative features but also comes recommended
- If you’re already using Google Docs, there’s a free plug-in for Chrome that can help you create screenplay-formatted docs
- Plotbot is a free in-browser tool