Aural Fixation Archive

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The Care and Editing of Scripts

I’ve found myself over the last few years editing quite a few scripts, enough of them to need to pull together a process for doing so. And as there is no Audio Drama without a script, I thought I would share my process with everyone else. I would also love to hear how the rest of you go about the difficult job of script editing, so leave a comment and spread your experience.

Step 1. Will I edit it?

Well if I wrote it then I guess I had better edit it, such is the art of writing. But before I will edit a script for anyone else I need to know a few things.

  1. Do you actually want it edited, or do you just want it read?
  2. Are you capable of accepting critique, or do you just want it read?
  3. Will we still be friends after this is over?

Step 2. Check for simple errors.


photo by Jan Verbist

We all make them, in spite of the fantastic technologies that make us not even need to open a dictionary anymore – if you’re old enough to even remember what a dictionary is.

  1. Typos
  2. Common misspellings or misuse of words. Their, They’re or There?
  3. And other grammar and structure errors that we were all taught in elementary school and then quickly forgot.

Step 3. Look for redundancies, passive voice, unnecessary adverbs and vagaries.

Unfortunately, common parlance doesn’t make very good writing. It makes good characters, but not good writing. Why? Because if you actually listen to a conversation (not participate in one) you will notice that we speak in passive voice, or clip words, we have different dialects, we have pet phrases or make up hyperbolic adjectives, we interrupt each other, we don’t finish our sentences or use punctuation and the majority of what we are communicating is not even verbal. While all of that makes for a decent conversation, it doesn’t play out well in a script…unless you’re Anthony Burgess.

Step 4. Dig into the plot and structure of the story.


photo by Krzysztof Szkurlatowski

Here are the things I look for as an editor, in no particular order.

1. How strong is the opening, does it capture my attention?

The beginning of the needs to grab my attention, I need to know where and when I am, what’s going on and who I am going on this journey with.

2. Does it start with a dream sequence, flashback or other abstract scenario?

Photo by Ember Lavoi
Photo by Ember Lavoi

This may be a personal aversion, but starting your listeners out in some murky abstract world is tiresome and breaks more than one of Kurt Vonnegut’s “8 Basics of Creative Writing”.

3. What’s the hook?

I need to know pretty quickly what choices the protagonist is presented with and what decisions will propel us through the story arc.

4. Do I care about the protagonist?

If I don’t care about your main character, I won’t really care about your story.

5. Is there enough of a reason for the characters to proceed? What is at stake?

No hero does anything just because the writer told them to. No villain does things just because they’re “evil”. Is it clear why the characters are doing the things necessary to sustain your plot; are they motivated?

6. When does the inciting incident occur? Is it too soon or too late?

This is all about pace, in order for your listeners to root for your protagonist we need to know who they were and what happened to them to form the basic structure of your story. If you take too long introducing the incident, you risk losing your audience. But don’t forget to introduce us to your setting, so we can identify where and when we are and what is going on. There are at least two dynamics – who the protagonist was before the inciting incident and who they are becoming as a result.

7. Can a scene, description or sequence be heard in an aural medium or is it too visual? The Care and Editing of Scripts

This is a common mistake that we audio drama writers tend to make, usually because we didn’t start out as audio drama writers. Every writer has their own quirks and common errors; it’s the job of the editor to catch them and save the writer from potential embarrassment and rejection.

8. Is there unnecessary voice over or narration?

Now I’m not saying that there can be NO voice overs, inner monologues, narration or disembodied voice-type exposition.

The Care and Editing of Scripts
Moses: The Lord, the Lord Jehovah has given unto you these fifteen…
[drops one of the tablets]
Moses: Oy! Ten! Ten commandments for all to obey!

What I am saying is go easy with it. If you’re stopping the action in the middle of a nicely tense scene to have someone suddenly pop in and tell me what’s going on, it kind of annoys me. It’s too distracting. Let your characters do the explaining through dialog whenever possible. Please.

9. What is the point of view? Is it consistent?

Many shows have multiple points of view; a well-crafted story has multiple subplots and therefore multiple points of view. Just make sure it’s clear who is guiding us through the scene and from what perspective. This is especially important for the future sound designer of your script.

10. Do the characters grow over the span of the story? Do they have depth? Are they necessary?

The main character has to discover, learn, adapt and grow. If they don’t you may as well be playing with action figures. photo by Lisa Kong The green army man with the bazooka can only do two things; shoot a bazooka and/or die. Don’t let your main character be a green army man. And if you have characters whose main purpose in your story is to shoot a bazooka and/or die, then you may want to consider whether you actually need them. If you have walk-on characters don’t give them names. Just kill them and get on with the story.

11. Is the dialogue natural or is it stiff and awkward?

Give some consideration to the background of your characters, how do they speak? No two characters should sound alike. photo by Emil Bacik And unless your character actually is an Eastern European-aristocratic-fiend-of- the-night, don’t make them sound like one.

12. Is there any conflict outside of the main conflict? How do the characters interact?

As the reader, can I follow the subplots and tensions? A story has a plot. A good story has subplots. Are they clear and do they follow the main arc of the story? To be a good editor you first have to make sure that the writer believes in doing what is best for the story, and then you must be merciless – to the story, not the writer. It is a difficult balance to maintain.

As a writer, I have spent so much time working on a particular scene, character or subplot. I can be very clever, and be in love with my creations. But if they ultimately don’t work – don’t progress the plot, don’t move your characters towards their goals – then they have to be cut. My advice is to save them somewhere where they can grow into their own stories.

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IMPULSIVE RESPONSE ABOUT IMPULSE RESPONSES

I recently received a question from Fred Greenhalgh of Final Rune Productions and Radio Drama Revival, asking about my preferences for convolution-reverb packages.

So here goes!

First, what is Convolution Reverb?

Convolution Reverb consists of a recorded sample (called an Impulse Response) of an acoustic space to excitation from a signal such as a sweep tone, starter gun, or snare drum crack, and the effect on the space of that signal after it has been removed and usably transformed by the convolution processor. Convolution reverbs essentially record and process the reverberant behaviorunique to a real acoustic space (Ken Hamburg).

So essentially, the reverb unit takes the impulse – the hand clap or sweep – and removes it. It measures what’s left by frequency to see the changes in reverb and eq. If a higher frequency sustains longer, it maps that. If a lower frequency is absorbed quickly, it maps that and essentially multiplies your audio file to that map to simulate the measurements as if the sound were in that space at the exact position of the recording device.

What this means is that we can place a sound in any environment, in any speaker system, in any sonic space that can be recorded, without ever having the actor in that space and without having direct access to the telephone, radio, megaphone or Sydney Opera House that the audio requires.

So back to Fred’s question.

Fred Greenhalgh

“What convolution-reverb package are you sporting these days? Are you happy with that choice or would you choose a different one in hindsight? What would be your choice, not choosing the least expensive option just because you had to, but also not just spending a whole bunch of money because it’s fun?”

I did a lot of research on Impulse Response (IR). No, really A LOT.

research
Too much research!

And here’s the conclusion that I’ve come to and work with.

Waves IR is okay, but for the price, it’s a little too mediocre, but it does come with a crap-ton of IRs on disk.

IR 1 boxI’ve used both IR-1 and IR-L Both are really overpriced for the package and neither do anything better than any other IR package. I currently run IR-L when I absolutely have to.

 

 

 

IR_L_boxAnd by “absolutely have to” I mean that it came with an IR environment that I need for the scene and would otherwise have to pay for something that I already own.

 

 

From what I hear, Altiverb, while nice, is mostly touted for it’s collection of IRs as well.

Altiverb 7However, while many IR programs accept only one method of making IRs – a white noise impulse such as a hand clap, cap gun or starter pistol. Altiverb allows not only that method, but other methods, including the much more accurate frequency sweep method. The sweep impulse allows you to run a frequency sweep from 20-20000hz and truly map out the place. This is definitely a better way to do IR, however it requires absolute silence when running the sweep and a decent speaker setup to get an accurate response curve. So, on the really super-pro, (i.e. having lots of time & resources) level, that would be the direction I would go. However, in our world of get in there, get the IR and move on with our day, a cap gun or starter pistol is pretty useful.

cap gunAside from that, most convolution reverbs work on the same mathematical premise and therefore are at core, the same. The difference usually tends to be in how it dials in. That said, I use Audition’s built in convolution verb when I’m working in Audition. It works well and the controls are pretty intuitive.

In Pro-Tools, I forego Waves (as Waves has been linked to a lot of Pro Tools crashes) and go right for my first love, Liquid Sonics Reverberate, which ranges from cheap-as-free to really-dirt-cheap depending on the version you opt for. I use Reverberate Core and it holds up well, without over-burdening my system.