- Bringing a story to different formats for our audiences.
- Why writing for the audio drama is different than writing a novel.
- Why conflict is essential to our stories, no matter what the format.
The act of creating something was thrilling. Here’s a world that exists now and it didn’t a moment ago.
Welcome to the thirty-eighth episode of Interviews from the Void, where I interview writers about their writing process, discussing the mechanics and physicality of the craft.
In this episode, I chat with audio drama writer and screenwriter Matthew William.
“It’s hard to remember that he’s not me. Not exactly anyway. Genetically speaking, yes, he’s a perfect match. But since the moment he was born our experiences have been slowly and steadily forming us into different people. Driving us further and further apart, like two roads diverging in the woods, never to cross paths again.”
Arthur: Tell me more about your writing journey. What is your background and how did you come upon the writing craft?
Matthew: I wrote my first story in school when I was about 7 or 8. It wasn’t a writing assignment or anything like that, just something I decided to do on my own. And I discovered that the act of creating something was thrilling. Here’s a world that exists now and it didn’t exist a moment ago. And even though it was just a crappy Wizard of Oz knockoff, I was hooked. For some reason my teacher and my parents thought it was good and they told me that I was a good boy for doing it and that I should keep it up.
And I thought, “Wow, this attention sure is nice.” I guess I’ve been chasing the dragon ever since.
Arthur: Your short story, THE MORE I DISAPPEAR, is amazing. It blends together so many things from parenting to our own nostalgic feelings of childhood, and our futures. What was the inspiration for this story? What there a central theme you wanted to explore? What was that theme?
Matthew: I was having this conversation with someone one day about how every generation complains about the next generation, and it’s almost as if they view them as inferior people. I wanted to explore how little would actually change if we were just raising exact replicas of ourselves. Because, ultimately, I think we’d still fall into that same trap.
And I think our generation has this weird relationship with nostalgia. Almost everyone I know has a plan of how they want to show the Star Wars films to their kids. That’s a little controlling, isn’t it? I mean, our parents never really did anything like that. What’s the reason behind that?
Marketing will have to be something in the budget for anything creative.
Arthur: Your audio drama, THE ENOCH SAGA, has a large production. How did you find your actors and music producers? What is the story behind the podcast’s development? How did it go from just an idea to what it has become today?
Matthew: It actually started as a one man audiobook that I released as a podcast. It had background music that made the whole thing a little more cinematic than most audiobooks. And somebody heard the podcast, loved it and put me in contact with an audio drama producer, Pacific Obadiah of Midnight Disease Productions, who wanted to make it into an audio drama. From there I rewrote the book as an audio drama script and Midnight Disease took on the production side of things.
Arthur: How do you promote and market your podcast?
Matthew: Twitter, Facebook, Reddit – all the usual social media avenues. But I’ve noticed it’s becoming less and less effective as marketing is shifting away from those free tools. More and more, marketing will have to be something in the budget for anything creative. We were in an exciting time when anyone could post something online and get a lot of eyes on it, but now that time seems to be ending.
When creating something you just have to make it as good as humanly possible.
Arthur: How did you decide which platform to host your podcast on?
Matthew: My first podcast was hosted from a free wordpress site, but I got what I paid for. It was hard to tell how many downloads there were and where they were coming from. I think in the future I’ll go with something with some more tools.
Arthur: The “audio drama” is making a big comeback in the last few years. With other shows coming out, such as THE BIG LOOP, THE BLACK TAPES, and WOLF 359, how are you making your production stand out?
Matthew: I think when creating something you just have to make it as good as humanly possible. Be into it, be excited by it, and put a lot of your personality into it. People react to that.
Be into it, be excited by it, and put a lot of your personality into it. People react to that.
Arthur: Is your approach to writing different from it’s for a book versus a podcast episode?
Matthew: Absolutely. You have to think what will work with only sound. When adapting THE ENOCH SAGA there were whole scenes and chapters from the book had to be cut or rewritten because they were impossible to convey with the audio format. Plus you don’t always have the luxury of hearing what’s going on inside a person’s head, the way you do in a book. A lot of that has to be conveyed through the dialogue.
Arthur: In a previous interview with Hugh Howey, he indicated he knows the ending of the story before he starts. How do you come up with endings to your stories? How do you develop the pace for your stories? What is your story outlining approach?
Matthew: I’ve always liked this quote from E. L. Doctorow on writing a novel, “It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
For me, the stories evolve so much from start to finish. And the ending should be the ultimate expression of what you wanted to say with the whole piece. Be that a short story, a novel, a screenplay – the ending is everything summed up with a nice little bow on top. For me, that’s not something I can foresee before I start writing.
Then again, Hugh Howey is way more successful than I am, so take my advice with a grain of salt.
The ending should be the ultimate expression of what you wanted to say with the whole piece.
Arthur: What other screenplays, screenwriters and books influence your writing? What about them specifically is inspiring to you and why?
Matthew: Orson Scott Card, politics aside, is a brilliant writer. Not many authors can weave action packed stories that are so dense with meaning and philosophy. That’s something I aspire to do.
And every time I see something Charlie Kaufman’s written, I can’t stop saying to myself, “Man, this guy is a genius.”
Lastly, Bill Bryson can make just about anything interesting and funny, be it history, language or science. In my experience, you can never go wrong with being interesting and funny.
Arthur: Robert McKee wrote a book called STORY, where he talks about the mechanics of screenwriting and using conflict and tension to drive the story forward. How do you outline your screenplays? Do you plan the pacing and beats of the story?
Matthew: There should always be some mystery pulling the reader forward. Something they just have to find out, even on a subliminal level. And conflict means the audience isn’t sure what they want to have happen. Black and white is boring – gray is where it’s at. That’s what separates good writing from great writing.
Black and white is boring. Gray is where it’s at. That’s what separates good writing from great writing.
Arthur: How do you determine the driving conflict of the story?
Matthew: You’ve got to give both sides a valid point. Take your character, give them something that they want more than anything else in the world. Then have somebody who doesn’t want that to happen, for equally good reasons. Throw them together and you’re guaranteed to generate sparks.
Arthur: Do you monitor trends in the podcast, movie and television markets? How do you do know if one story idea will be more successful over another?
Matthew: I think it might take too long for a creative thing to get made to make monitoring trends worthwhile. Publishing a novel, or producing a podcast or a movie, are all projects that take a lot of people and a lot of time to get finished. In the end, all you can do is make something you’re proud of, something you can really get behind and enjoy doing, something with a motor to make it to the finish line.
Beyond that, luck has a bigger hand in it than we’d all like to imagine.
All you can do is make something you’re proud of, something you can really get behind and enjoy doing.
Arthur: From a writing perspective, how do you make your stories engaging?
Matthew: A character we like to spend time with, something redeeming about them, something they’re good at. Then take them and throw them into a story we’ve never seen before. It’s easier said than done, though.
Arthur: What did you learn most when writing your book, THE ENOCH PILL?
Matthew: Anything is going to evolve on it’s way from idea to finished product. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes not. That’s the risk we take when we create. You’ve got this idea, it’s sitting there, perfect in our mind, and then we transfer it onto paper and we look at it and it kind of sucks in comparison. But we still have that perfect image in our head. So we go about chiseling it down to something that resembles the idea we had in the first place. And sometimes it’s better, and sometimes it’s not. But it’s the act of creation that’s addicting. That’s what keeps us coming back for more.
An awesome interview, Matthew. Thank you for sharing your insight on writing and the craft in a different format. Can’t wait for more of your episodes to come out. Also, check out his book, THE ENOCH PILL, upon which his podcast is based.