AUDIO DRAMA 101
So hopefully after reading the ‘expanding ideas’ posts previous to this one by Paul Sating, you now have a succession of plot ideas that sit along your story’s timeline. You may have only a handful of ideas or you may have a hundred; either way, by looking at how to set up the structure of your story in the example discussed here, you will see how best to put these ideas together.
There are many ways in which we could tell a tale, but what you will always find in stories is a rise in action, where the lead character/s seem to get into more and more trouble, followed by a final conflict and a resolution, before we come back down to the ground with a bump to finish the gripping yarn. Without a doubt, the best way to learn the art of storytelling is to learn the art of story structure, and the best way to do that is to employ the ‘Three Act’ format. It is one of the easiest and most effective formats out there, and as the name suggests, this format breaks the whole story into three separate parts. 1 The Setup. 2 The Confrontation. 3 The Resolution. Let’s break it down and take a closer look at the individual acts.
At the beginning of the story we introduce the audience to the main characters and the world they live in. What is life normally like for our protagonist/s? Of course, this is no ordinary day, for today something will happen. An inciting incident, a confrontational situation that will trigger off a series of events across the story arc. That our protagonist will try to address, but ultimately fail, and brings upon themselves an even bigger problem that will change their lives forever, thus signaling the end of act one, and leaving the audience with a cliffhanger.
With the beginning of Act Two your audience should be on the edge of their seats asking lots of questions. ‘Is our hero okay?’ ‘What will they do next?’ ‘I wonder if they have any pistachio ice-cream in the foyer?’ (Seriously, if they’re asking that question then your story hasn’t got them hooked. Either that, or like me, they can’t go five minutes without thinking about ice-cream.)
So what does happen next? Well, usually the protagonist has several unsuccessful attempts or multiple obstacles being thrown in their way. These obstacles getting harder and harder to overcome/resolve. The answer to the inciting indecent created in Act One seeming further and further away. They try in vain to escape the clutches of the evil villain; they reach the oasis in the desert but it’s dry; the ancient Egyptian carving is booby-trapped and our hero narrowly escapes death again, (but manages to save his hat in the nick of time). This is then usually followed by a major plot twist and of course, the protagonist finds himself up to his neck in the proverbial, not only without a paddle but possibly no canoe either! Which brings to a head the end of Act Two with the pinnacle of the rising action, the climax of the tension, and a resolution to the inciting incident set up in Act One.
Just like the end of Act One, the audience should be on the edge of their seats wondering if our hero will chose the right path… is it the red wire or the blue? Will the plan to destroy the mother-ship work? Does the new medication cure his disease?
As the name suggests, the ‘resolution’ sees the plot, and any sub plots you have created, come to their final conclusion, all the loose unds tied up in a nice little bow. The climax of the story now resolved, our hero has matured, they have saved the day/mankind/earth from invading martians/zombies or even zombie martians, and can now kiss the love interest, ride off into the sunset, or head on out to the foyer and get a triple chocolate ice cream with a caramel sauce and a sprinkling of crushed hazelnuts. What???
The three act structure lends itself perfectly to script writing serial audio drama. You can use it to shape each individual episode, every season, and even the whole series. To shape slow burning plots that arc over multiple seasons for example, picture season one as act one, season two and three as act two, and season four at act three. The rise and fall shape to this format of storytelling whether employed at the level of each episode, over a season, or the entire series, gives the whole endeavor a wonderful symmetry, and the audience a thrilling roller coaster ride on your imagination at every turn.
It’s a simple case of arranging all your plot points along the timeline, et voila! Great storytelling achieved!