From your fav writer & podcasting babe
In high school, I wrote my first script and let me tell you… it was atrocious. It was a one-act play about a teenager whose grandpa thought he was Indiana Jones.
The plot was cheesy and all it had going for it was the comedic story about the kid’s first day of high school. I honestly forget what happened, but I wrote it and I was proud at the time. After all, scriptwriting isn’t easy, whether it’s for a movie, a play, or in this case — a podcast.
Someone was asking me about it the other day, and I found that the blogs I read online didn’t really answer the question that well. And if you’re a freelance writer who wants to add a new skill, well podcasting is a fun one because it’s different from other writing.
They’re conversational & flow naturally; they require a lot of detailed research; and, personally, I think the formatting makes them way more fun to write!
Now, let’s walk through the process of writing a podcast script. And I promise, yours will not be nearly as terrible as my first one.
The 5 Types of Podcasts
Hilariously, all the blogs I saw completely neglected this before they started sharing tips. And yet, it’s essential to know what you’re writing before you write it.
There are all kinds of podcasts out there today. So, logically, there are all kinds of ways to write a script. Of course, there are some universal aspects but overall they are all very different.
Here are 5 types of podcasts in my opinion:
- Non-fiction Podcasts: These are podcasts addressing real events and topics, often involving a lot of research. This includes investigative podcasts like Serial, solo podcasts like The Story Behind, and interview podcasts like Ologies.
- Fictional Podcasts: Others might refer to this as a “theatrical podcast” or narrative podcast. They’re also called “audiodramas” as these have their roots in radio plays that your grandparents listened to before we had TVs. An example of this is The Bright Sessions.
- Video Podcasts: Also called, “vidcasts,” these are typically more of the interview style podcast, but because there is a visual element they require more extensive notes.
- Audiobooks: Also called “Podcast novels,” these aren’t quite in the realm of podcasts but they’re gaining steam. These have their roots in spoken word poetry, and the first audiobook was actually made back in 1952 with Dylan Thomas.
- Hybrid podcasts: This encompasses all the other podcast forms that don’t fit neatly into the above categories. Yes, I’m lazy. But to give you an example, My Dad Wrote a Porno is a narrative podcast that also has roundtable discussions.
Now, as you can see I’m bundling up a lot of different podcasts in those 5 categories. However, I think it’s better to simplify it instead of having 12+ types of podcasts and constantly adding to it.
So, now that you can see how different podcasts can be, let’s have a quick chat about everyone’s favourite part. Formatting.
The Basics of Script Formatting
Now, a podcast isn’t quite the same as a movie script — thank god. But depending on the type of podcast, it might be.
A solo podcast needs an entire script for one person. An audio drama needs characters and sound effects. An interview script needs questions and a guest bio. They’re all slightly different from each other.
But at least you can get the formatting right.
In general, script formatting should:
- Be double-spaced: This makes it easy to read.
- Indicate who is talking: Character names should be consistent throughout. You can also use terms like “Host” and “Guest” if you don’t know exactly who is reading it.
- Have technical directions: This is more for audio dramas with sound effects and music, but can be helpful for interview-style shows too. For example, voice directions are usually in parentheses (whispered).
- Have page numbers: Again, this is more for fictional podcasts.
- Sound like real dialogue: Maybe this is obvious, but don’t write too stiffly. Your script should mimic the tone of whoever is reading it aloud.
Title pages, slug lines, and other fun stuff aren’t super necessary unless you’re writing for a serious company like the BBC. But in my experience, a lot of clients have no idea that (D) means distort or (CLOSE) means to practically make out with the microphone.
Go take a screenplay class or read this screenplay blog if you wanna get more into the nitty gritty. That said, it’s cute and classic to write the word END in the centre, so feel free to do that and pour yourself a glass of Champagne, as I do.
Podcasting isn’t an industry like Film and TV where you have to be strict and meet prehistoric script guidelines. There’s some flexibility here. So, do what works for you and play around with it.
Bonus Tip: To answer this quickly, yes you can use bullet points. That is allowed, but it depends on the person. Some people like having a basis to start with and going off script as they feel, while others need a script since they fumble on the words. You do you.
How to Write a Bombass Podcast Script
Okay okay here’s what you really want. But please note every podcast is different and the more I write the more I realize this entire thing should be a lot longer.
Still, I’m sharing a general outline I’ve used as a basis for the shows I’ve worked on to get you started.
Creating a Podcast Outline for Your Script
You’ll find this all over the internet, but they don’t really explain it well. In most cases, theirs are hardly different from the high school essay outline I used 12 years ago.
So, here’s my version of a podcast script outline:
- Intro: Also sometimes referred to as the Opening Sequence, this should introduce your host, your podcast’s name, the benefits the listeners get, and the topic at hand. It might also include the frequency of the episodes and in most cases, this is prerecorded. Keep it around 15 seconds to 30 seconds in length.
- Housekeeping: This is the 5-minute (or god forbid 20 min) spiel from your hosts or producer about other news surrounding the show. If you must include this keep it succinct or move it to the end! Personally, unless I’m a super fan — I always skip this part.
- Introductions: If you have a guest, now is the time to introduce them and the topic at hand. Start with their name, why they’re qualified for the topic, and then get into the good stuff.
- Outline of each topic or section: If it’s an interview show, this will be questions and maybe information on the guest. For an educational show, it’s going to be more expansive. For example, I used to host Boardgame B*tch as a solo show and I broke up the script into 4 sections: How a boardgame worked, why I loved it, why I hated it, and strategy tips for playing it.
- Segue: Some people like to write the transitional sentence between parts. Others just let the editor add music to indicate and change of scenery, so it’s up to you or the client.
- Sponsors: Technically, you can run your podcast ad slots at any time. There are pre-roll, mid-roll, and end-roll spaces with the middle one usually costing the most. It can be a live reading or prerecorded. If it’s not live, you’ll need to write in a Segue before it.
- Summary: At the end, just highlight everything you’ve said. I don’t think I need to explain this.
- Outro: To conclude, your outro should have things like the network stinger, who produced the show, who edited the show, who made the music, and a thank you. Think of it like the credits of a movie.
- CTA: Finally, the CTA. Your podcast has a purpose — even if it’s just a hobby. Ask your followers to like the episode, leave a review, buy the guest’s book, or share it on social media tagging you. While it is optional, I think it’s a must. Even if all you do is tell your listeners to watch a video about a fruitbat eating a grape, just do it.
- Bloopers: This is something I’ve only heard a few shows do, but I always enjoy it when I get to hear the silly little audio goofs.
You won’t get it right the first time. It’s a learning process and I’ve learned plenty so far. Everything above is really for a solo or interview show. An audio drama is a lot more work, and we’ll have to cover that another time.
For now, this is at least enough to get you started.
Oh, but one more quick thing…
How to Actually Use a Podcast Script
Alright, here’s the last huge gap I noticed online that a shocking number of podcast blogs neglected to tell you. How do you actually use a script? I know, read it aloud — duh.
But that’s not what I’m talking about.
If you’re just starting out, you’re going to sound stiff. And that’s normal (unless you’ve taken voice-acting lessons). But I wanted to share a few tips that might help you out.
- Avoid anything with milk: The dairy really sticks in your throat and your vocal cords will feel weird. No, I’m not lactose intolerant. But I swear this is a real thing.
- Leave space for chatting: If you have an interview-style show, you can go off script! Use your interview questions and research notes as a guideline.
- Do a test run: For a solo show, this is especially important. Read it aloud a couple of times to get the feel for the words. You can also record yourself for a few minutes and see how you sound. And so you don’t commit to an entire episode with a broken mic (depressing).
- Add delivery notes: After you’ve written the script, add some notes! Highlight where you want emphasis, where you want pauses, and so on. And come on, who doesn’t love a little annotation?
Alrighty, that’s all from me.
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Thanks, folks! ✌️️
About the Author
Victoria Fraser is a freelance podcast producer and copywriter from Vancouver, Canada. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or through her website victoriafraser.ca to work together. Of course, you can also just say thanks for the advice!