Monday, 23 September 2013

Guest Post: Philip Craig Robotham on Writing Audio-Dramas (With Giveaway)

Hello all! Well, it will be a week tomorrow since I packed up everything, moved all but a suitcase (and a bit)'s worth into storage, and started my freelance life. Still trying to sort everything out but am carrying on.  So thank you all for your patience and support as I upend my life... again. 

Today, to fill in my very conspicuous gap, I have the wonderful Philip Craig Robotham doing a guest interview.

Philip has started up his own company,, producing audio drama scripts in the style of old time radio plays packaged as a fun dinner party idea. While still holding down his day job, Philip has created radio plays for three serials; Pulp Adventure, Gaslamp Mystery and Fantasy Noir. Today we talk about why radio plays, how he writes, and the challenges associated with starting a writing career.

What inspires you to write?

For me writing is enormous fun. I do it because I love the thrill of creating and allowing my imagination to run wild. I'm also an old-time radio fan. I enjoy everything from adventures like "Gunsmoke", "the Green Hornet", "the Saint", and "Yours Truly Johnny Dollar", through comedies such as "the Goon Show" and "Fibber McGee and Molly", through science fiction like "X Minus 1" and "ProjectXx", through to horror and suspense like "the Inner Sanctum". 

It's typical of me that the genre of writing that gets me excited the most is one which died out more than forty years ago. All the same, it's what I love and seems to be having something of a resurgence lately via the internet. There have been some great examples of audio drama made available recently from podcasters online. These include the fabulous "Adventures of the Red Panda", the haunting and creepy "Wormwood", the extremely professional "Leviathan Chronicles", and far too many others to list. 

I'm not a particularly florid writer. I like plain speech and simple exposition. I'm also not overly fond of having to write lengthy descriptions of people and places. As a result radio writing seems to have been made for me. 

Host your own Old Time Radio Drama script category - Pulp Adventure
Host your own Old Time Radio Drama - Pulp Adventure - The Alligator Menace
The first of the Pulp Adventure Series
How does writing an audio drama differ from other genres?

Writing for the ear is very different to any other kind of writing that I have ever done. For one thing everything is exposition. In real life no-one ever says "look out Claire, he's holding a gun!", but in an audio drama it's essential to spell out what is happening for the listener. It's also very hard to write an audio drama with a lone character in it. If you do then you'll find yourself forced to have the character talking to him or herself constantly. The old Sam Spade voice-over was probably invented for radio shows relying on a single main character:
"I walked the last 18 steps to the battered old front door. The lock had been jimmied and swung creaking on its hinges in the evening breeze." 

There’s great atmosphere in these monologues but, personally, I like my characters to have company and it lets me indulge my taste for banter:
"What are we doing here, boss?" 
"Old man Cranston invited us to come visit him up at the house." 
"Yeah? Battered looking old place isn't it? Give me a second and I'll try the door... Hey, the lock's broken! This door's been jimmied open." 
"What gave it away, genius? The fact that it was swinging back and forth on its hinges or the crowbar lying in the dirt beside it?" 
I also like conflict and a bit of "sass". It’s harder to have that with a lone character. 

One thing you really develop when writing an audio script is your ability to do dialog and characterisation (especially dialog). That's simply because dialog is all you have to work with most of the time. You don't have to spend a lot of time labouring over descriptions of people and places when you write for radio - the listener will supply all the detail with their own imaginations - but you do have to manage dialog. In fact a judicious lack of physical description engages the listener’s imagination more effectively and helps them to identify themselves more fully with the characters. 

The other thing that is surprisingly hard to do in audio is action. A fight scene needs to be over really quickly because otherwise the listener is being treated to a whole series of bangs and whaps that don't provide anything much for the listener's imagination to grab onto... and a blow by blow description (while in keeping with many of the conventions of the genre) starts to sound like a commentary at a prize fight. When it comes to descriptions of what the characters see, hear and experience, you want just enough to tell the audience what they need to know about the environment without it sounding so unrealistic that it jettisons them out of the story. 

Another thing that's easy to forget is that the listener will not know who is speaking unless someone among the characters refers to that character by name. My very first (and thankfully long buried) attempt at script writing suffered from this problem but I still have to go through my completed scripts and make sure all the characters have been properly identified out loud before I send them off to my editor. 

BTW - finding a skilled editor to whip my work into shape is an absolute must as a self-publisher. I can't begin to say how much embarrassment I have been saved by the sharp eye of my editor. That isn’t to say that there isn't plenty more embarrassment to be had for which I am solely responsible.

Host your own Old Time Radio Drama - Pulp Adventure - The Cult of the Teeth
Pulp Adventure - Episode 2

How do you structure your work?

I write in episodic format. That is, I write as if I'm writing episodes in a radio serial. Most of the old radio stories of the past were limited to around twenty to forty minutes or so. I find that twenty minutes is too short for telling the kind of stories I want to tell (though the discipline of paring back a story until it can be told in twenty minutes is a good one). I write what I call "feature length" plays to be read over an hour and a half to two hours and while I am writing self-contained episodes they do each contribute to a larger story. 

When it comes to the structure of my writing I find the good old three act story structure really helpful. I know lots of writers hate it, find it confining and formulaic, and in some cases even deny that it exists, but I find it helpful as a way of keeping momentum in my writing and stopping me from becoming dull. It also gives me a bridging structure for the wider story arc of each serial I write. Personally I'm not a high-concept kind of writer. Don't get me wrong, I wish I had the talent for that and envy those that do. Instead I write the kind of stories I enjoy; adventures, usually with a deal of mystery and supernatural suspense thrown in for good measure. I also write to entertain. While I like to have good-guys who are good and bad-guys who are bad, I'm not writing to instruct or make any deep moral statements about the world. I leave that kind of thing to better writers than I am. I'm simply having fun and hoping my readers do as well.

Host your own Old Time Radio Drama script category - Gaslamp Mystery
Host your own Old Time Radio Drama - Gaslamp Mystery - The Visitor from the Gloria Scott
Gaslamp Mystery - Episode 1

Do you have a specific process or schedule?

I have two small children and a day job so writing is something I do in my spare time. I try to write something every day but I don't always get the chance. I don't beat myself up over this. Life happens and if I get to spend some time writing four days out of seven, I call it a win and move on. I begin with a fairly detailed outline, breaking down the acts, plot points, and character points in the story. I don't bother breaking down the scenes at this stage but I do build a pretty clear outline of all the events in the story before I sit down to write the first draft. For me an outline is essential – it gives me confidence that most of the plot problems have been solved before the writing begins. 

I write the first draft straight through. Not necessarily in one sitting but usually without going back over the text until it is all complete. I have found that if I start polishing before the first draft is complete I waste a huge amount of time writing and re-writing the same material over and over and eventually abandon the whole thing. 

Once the first draft is written I go back to the beginning and start revising. I look for plot holes, stuff that doesn't make sense, redundancy, places where my pace is either too slow or too quick (still working on this one), and points at which I can punch up the character interaction. I also check to see that I've been able to maintain the voices of my characters authentically. Finally, I revise for spelling, grammar, and punctuation problems. 

Technically I guess that's just three drafts, but my second and third drafts are a form of death by a thousand cuts where I go over and over the text until I feel that I can stand to look at it without complete embarrassment. I'm not the kind of writer who will spend forever perfecting every turn of phrase. I like telling stories and am too impatient to connect with an audience for that kind of perfectionism. Besides I've ruined more than one story by overworking it. They say that no work of art is ever finished, merely abandoned, and I guess that's true of my writing (though whether it qualifies as art is something I'll leave to the reader).
Host your own Old Time Radio Drama script category - Fantasy Noir

Host your own Old Time Radio Drama - Fantasy Noir - Predator's Row
Fantasy Noir - Episode 1

What's the most unique thing about your writing?

Probably the most unique thing about my writing is its packaging. The plays I write, while fun to read in their own right, are designed to be performed as part of a dinner party by a group of from 6 to 8 participants. The six episodes I've published so far include everything you need to host a fun dinner party and script reading; costume ideas, period recipes, instructions for a "build it yourself" sound effects kit, and, of course, an original script. I came up with the idea as I puzzled over how I might take part in the apparent revival that audio drama online has been enjoying in recent years. Unfortunately I don’t have the technical expertise to create a podcast, nor access to the acting talent necessary to create an audio drama. 

In light of this I spent some time thinking about what I really enjoyed about the radio dramas of yore and I was suddenly struck by something. For me, the fond memories are all tied up with the time spent listening with family. It was about the fun we had together living the experience in our imaginations. I would laugh myself hoarse listening to the Goon Show and other programs. They were great times of fun, family, food and community. 

As I thought about this it occurred to me that, as much as I love professionally produced audio drama, there might be a way to recapture some of that sense of fun and community without necessarily having to invest heavily in technology and good actors. Earlier this year we held our first dinner party/script reading with an original script that I wrote to celebrate my forty third birthday. We had a blast. Food, friends, fun, and one thing more that I don't think you get by merely listening; a sense of being inside and part of the story.

What's the biggest challenge you face?

The biggest challenge I face as I enter the world of self-publishing is that of marketing my own work. Frankly... marketing is not what I'm best at. Like most people who enjoy writing (a fairly solitary task by its very nature) I don't actually know that many people. The big challenge for me, then, is spreading the word that these stories exist.

Thanks Philip!
So, with Christmas just 13 weeks away, why not take a look at hosting your own party, or giving a radio as a unique and interesting gift from as little as 5.99? 

Philip Craig Robotham is the author of our range of Host your own Old Time Radio Drama scripts of adventure, mystery, and suspense.
Philip Craig Robotham’s “Host your own Old-Time Audio Drama” scripts are available in pdf, e-book, and print on demand versions. Check out the facebook page ( and website ( for more information or to place an order

To convince you of how much fun these can be, I'm giving away 5 copies of any of these scripts. All you need to do to enter is leave a comment saying which radio play you want, and you'll go into the random draw to win one. Entries close in a week, Tuesday 1st October. 

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Mid-Move Update

So today is the day. I'm moving from my beautiful little 1 bedroom apartment in trendy South Yarra and starting the life of a nomad for a few months.
Apologies all for not updating regularly. Here is what's been happening:

Decided last week that I needed to get my aunt's novella and my brother's book ready for print on demand within two weeks. Then my father asked if I could also get his short handbook proofed, formatted, cover made and ready for print on demand as well in that timeframe. I, being silly, said I would give it a go.
The reason for the rush is that I'm off to a christian conference on 11th October, and want to set up a table with the other book sellers (makes me feel quite official, sort of like a publisher!). However, since I'm printing with Createspace, the time it takes to get the proof shipped out and then the orders, even paying the ridiculous amount for express post, still means I need to be done much, much earlier.

On a side note, this is one of the reasons I've started looking at Lightning Source instead, as they have a group in Australia, so I wouldn't have to wait or pay the postage. I'm in the process of signing up with them, but there is a lot more involved, as I have to be approved as a publisher (which I have been, yah!), and then sign all the contracts etc. As my business paperwork (and people thought I was silly for actually registering as a business) is of course in the packing. But hopefully when I have it all done, it will be great. The sales rep also let slip that they actually do all Createspace's actual printing, so I was sure to be happy with the comparison of quality. Good to know.

In summary, I finished my aunt's book, and the proof should be coming late this week. My brother's book is formatted, but I'm still proofing it as I found more typos. I've also finished the full cover. My father's book I've started formatting and proofing, probably done the first half. Have an idea for the cover, but nothing more.

Then I've spent the last two days doing nothing but packing. Have I mentioned how much I hate packing? The removalists are here right now taking it all away, yah. This is the first time I've hired removalists just for myselt, and it was a brilliant idea.
I'm madly trying to type this before i disconnect my wireless internet :D

On my own writing side, I haven't had a chance to edit After the Winter yet, but I'm one session off finishing The Five Day Writer's Bootcamp, and it's really good (if I do say so myself). The rest of the week is probably going to be a write-off, but maybe on the weekend I can get it finished. Haven't quite decided which of the next ideas is going to be my project, and whether to put my effort into editing The Nice Guys Guide to Online Dating Profiles or After the winter first.

So will let you know more when I'm not standing surrounded by boxes.

Lots of love,

Thursday, 5 September 2013

My Love For Scrivener Continues...

I mentioned awhile ago, I'm sure I did, that I had moved over to using Scrivener for my writing. At first it was just because Word does its weird auto-formatting thing that makes e-books unpredictable. As you have to use Word to upload to Smashwords (though, I think they do now take epub, but you still need to get your word document to epub somehow), I wanted a more reliable way than writing the whole thing and then spending hours removing all the formatting and redoing the whole thing. 

I had heard a bit about Scrivener, and one friend had tried to tell me that if I was serious about writing I should really test it out. So I finally took the plunge and signed up for their 30 day trial (which, by the way is awesome because it counts the number of days you use it for, not 30 calendar days from when you sign up.) 

I'm in love. I don't think I've taken up a new piece of software as quickly as I've accepted Scrivener. I can't imagine working on any of my drafts not using it now. It does take some getting used to, but its benefits are so useful straight away that it's worth it.

I highly recommend watching at least the 10 minute video tutorial, because it is so packed with features that it is hard to work out everything it can do. I must admit, there is a 30 minute walk through tutorial which I've never done, but maybe one day I will. 

I'm still discovering a lot of the features, and there are a few things which I find annoying and am sure there must be a way around, I just haven't worked them out yet. However, I just wanted to highlight one way that it has totally changed my writing. 

Scrivener works in scenes and chapters, and when you are finished you 'compile' it altogether into whatever document type you need. So I've been going through importing the previous stories I've written in Word, and breaking them up into scenes so I can see how it is all fitting together. This has highlighted a serious problem in my previous writing: my chapter and scene lengths were all over the place!

Scrivener automatically displays the word count for that section down the bottom. So as I've been dividing these long documents into their scenes, I've suddenly realised that my chapters vary between 1,000 and 4,000+ words! This might be okay if I were doing it on purpose to make certain points. But I wasn't, I just wasn't writing very well.

I'm currently going through my 50,000 word draft of After The Winter. It is really illuminating to see it all broken up into scenes, because I can see where I need to expand, and other areas that are too long. Using Scrivener's outline form (which looks like cue cards on a corkboard, see below) I can type up short summaries of each scene and what I need to add to make the story work. It is giving me a clear path on what needs to be done and taken away a lot of the fear I had about it last night (to the point where I didn't start editing at all, because I was just overwhelmed with what needed to be done). 

It also helps that I can easily jump around the entire document, because the scenes outlined on the left hand side. When you are editing and/or planning, this is invaluable because I keep getting ideas like 'oh, I need to explain that when they first meet', and can skip back, put a note on the card, and be back to where I was in less than 20 seconds. Much easier than scrolling to where you think that scene was, trying to find somewhere you can leave a note, then scrolling back to where you were. 

So hopefully I will have a much more evenly written book by the time I'm finished, and more fun while I'm doing the actual writing (which is not to be underestimated).

Anyone else have great tips or features they have found with Scrivener?

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Faith In Writing

I was just watching a Joyce Meyer TV podcast (does that sound like an oxymoron to anyone else?). For those of you who don't know, Joyce Meyer is an American Christian speaker, whom I love for her down to earth attitude. She reminds me very much of my mother. She's not worried with the big theologies, but that you gossiped behind someone's back. While the big theologies do need to be thought out and fought for, I think we will find that God in the end cares more about the little stuff we've done (yes, I studied theology at Oxford, which is why I think I can say this). 

Anyway, back to my point. She was talking about faith. In my theology blog, Buffy and God - The Blog, I did an early post on What Is Faith? So sometimes I feel that if I've written on it, I don't need to think about it anymore. However, it was good to be reminded, especially now because I think it applies very strongly to my writing as well. 

Joyce was saying that faith isn't something that we feel but the way that we act, where we put our trust, and that this once acted upon can bring the feeling. Does anyone else find their writing like this? I know I love writing, but there are a lot of times I don't feel like writing, which at times makes me question whether I really should be doing it. However, whenever I step out in faith and force myself to sit down, the good feelings towards writing (usually) come flooding back. 

Same with this blog. I struggle to even write on it, though once I get going I realise I have so much I want to say. Though, at the moment I'm a little drained of writing advice. I'm working on the second Five Day Writer's book: The Five Day Writer's Bootcamp. I'm just over a 1/4 of the way through, and ideally would like the first done by the end of the week, but realistically think it will be next week. Pouring out that much writing related advice does leave me a bit dry for writing on the blog. All the good things I have to say are going in there, so just read the book when it comes out. (And not to toot my own horn, but some of the ideas that are coming out are surprisingly good, even to me! Now I just need to put them into practice :D). 

So the point of today's little ramble is to have faith: act as if you are a writer, and don't fear because you don't feel like you are one.

ROW 80 Check-In:

I finally finished the first draft of A Nice Guy's Guide To Online Dating Profiles. It took longer than I wanted, but I was good and after the two weeks were up, I started on my next project and worked on this only in the evenings as overtime. It took me another week, but it is now all there in rough form. Now I just need to edit it, get one of my great fellow editors to go over it, and then it will be available to the world. If you know any guys that could do with a few handy and friendly hints, this is the book for them. It's clear, practical, and not designed to make them feel like crap about themselves (so many things out there were really negative! Don't they realise that most unsuccessful guys just need to be given a few more tips, not made to feel even worse?) 

As mentioned above, just over 1/4 through Bootcamp. Am getting back into my routine of waking up at 7am and writing for at least 2 hours before doing anything else. Up until recently I haven't been as faithful with my writing, so have lost a lot of my speed which is sad. Slowly working my way back up, but at the moment am averaging around 1,000 words an hour, compared to my previous 2,000-2,5000. Should probably follow more of my own writing advice! Does it make me a fraud if I can give other people really good writing advice but don't always do it myself? Anyone else do this? (okay, admittedly I can also give other people really good dieting advice, but watch out if you leave me alone with a block of choc.) 

Lots of editing for other people to be done, which is great, but struggling to do more than an hour or two a day at the moment. However, I think the stress of trying to move might be affecting my working ability. My apartment is in a shambles as I've tried to start sorting things, which involves pulling everything out of the drawers, then not knowing where to put them, so covering all the surfaces in different piles, deciding that before I sort this pile I really need to sort that pile, and eventually curling up on the couch fearful that the towering piles are going to crash down on me and I'll only be found when the Alsatians come to eat my body. Since the removalists are coming two weeks today, I probably shouldn't have started so early, and just done a made rush at the end. Oh well.

Other writing news, am going to start looking again at After The Winter, my 1920's romance tonight. I really love the characters in this, and want to write them through to their happy ending, but just feel the beginning is not so good, so every time I start looking at it I get discouraged. But this time I'm going to see it through. Lucinda, I will get you with Lord George if it's the last thing I do! 
There, now I have to do it, or my characters will come and murder me in my sleep. 

Nothing else to report, so I hope that you are all going well with your various projects. And sorry to the northern hemisphere, but I'm SOOOOOO glad that spring has finally arrived! Instant mood boost.
Just to make you all jealous, this was my walk to the Melbourne Writer's Festival on Friday.

Photo: Why hello spring. You're a day early.