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  • Phillip Ratliff

Audio Story Scriptwriting 101


The story’s the thing. That’s the Backstory mantra. We recite it every time we produce a museum exhibit.


And it’s central to our audio story production process. Although the mediums are different, the processes are remarkably similar. Here are the steps we follow to write the scripts for our GPS-triggered audio stories.


Inventory your site’s assets. Look around. Inventory all that’s interesting. This list is what your story is about. Taking inventory is probably the most intuitive step, because interpretation is about what you can see and are curious about.


This step might also seem the most obvious. After all, the assets are why you chose the site in the first place. But as you inventory, you might conclude that you have too many assets for one story. In such cases, it makes sense to divide your site into two — or to make the touch choice to eliminate assets.


Choose your sources. Start by interviewing scholars and other experts. They’ll direct you to written sources and lay out the big issues. If it’s a museum you’re writing for, maybe it’s curatorial staff or scholars at a local university. If it’s a WMA, talk to wildlife management staff. They'll tell you where to look.


Vary the voices. An engaging audio story is a mix of narration and sound bites. The narrator advances the story’s narrative and provides context. Sound bites lend authenticity and color. You acquire sound bites by interviewing people who are in the know. Those bites can come from oral histories or interviews with experts.


Oral history lets eyewitnesses tell the story from a first-person POV. A former resident of a mining camp, an industrial worker, a member of an immigrant community — everyone has a personal story. An oral history captures it.


Interviews with experts assure listeners that you care about accuracy and context. Scholars and other experts provide depth and detail. Often, their more technical interview material can be paraphrased and turned into narration.


Invite expert review. After you’ve written your script, invite knowledgeable people to review it. Include your interview subjects in this process. Even the best writers can garble seemingly small details. Be humble.


Core edit. Go at your copy with the delete button. Are there filler words (rather, somewhat)? Redundancies? Adjectives or adverbs the listener can infer? Delete them.


Backstory takes these steps when we produce our audio story content. To hear a sample Backstory audio story, click here.

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