What is Audio Fiction?

Our stories are the fictional counterpart of the non-fiction documentary, essays, and features you’ll hear on National Public Radio. Just like in the publishing world you’ll find memoir and biographies as distinct categories from novels and short story writing, audio fiction uses similar conventions but very different subject matter for its exploration of humanity and its issues. The basic litmus test: stories told through the medium of sound.

Why not radio drama? (Especially considering we have links to “radio drama” articles, and use the phrase elsewhere in the site?) Now here’s where things good tricky. Radio drama is a historic term with a rich history which we like to represent, but is not entirely emblematic of the modern art form — after all, 99% of you will hear this over the internet, and not on the radio.

The other alternative phrase, audio theater, is pretty good, but tends to only be used by audio insiders. Furthermore, it continues to perpetuate the perception that the stories are like plays, when they’re really more like short stories, novellas, and novels (well, we’re working on the latter two). While the stories are dramatized, they aren’t really “theater.”

While “audio fiction” still might have some weaknesses, the point is our work is more like what you’ll read in a literary rag than what you’ll hear on the radio. It’s the stories that get us out of bed in the morning, not the transmitters.

  • I don’t know – audio fiction could suggest audio books. Personally I prefer audio drama, but I do think that there’s a need to have a consistent description.

  • Rachel

    I would seriously call this “radio drama”– people get that this isn’t 1932 and changes will be made accordingly. Also, almost no one listens to the radio anymore, but we generally accept the term “radio” as helpfully descriptive. You’re not working in a new genre and I don’t see any reason to confuse the issue. In fact, there are people working in what I’d call “audio fiction” who utilize new technologies and composition techniques to combine spoken text with sophisticated sound works in ways that push outside the confines of “radio drama” to utilize more expansive capabilities of audio composition. I’m not saying one’s better than the other, just that I agree with Laura’s comment & think you should reconsider labeling your work as a new genre when it might just be an improvement on an existing genre.

  • Rachel,

    Thanks for the comments and point well-taken. I’m not quite as set in stone as this article might imply (I run a show called “Radio Drama Revival” after all) and I must say, no producers I’ve talked to are particularly keen on “audio fiction.” So maybe it’s time to stop innovating terms and focusing on producing the art.

    I do tend to prefer “radio drama” over “audio theater” because I don’t think many people use the latter outside of the producer/enthusiast community. Though most people in America hardly know what a “radio drama” is, the few that do would recognize it before they would “audio theater.”

    Laura’s point is very true — the need for consistency — and at the end of the day I think that’s the biggest challenge. If we are ever to have a place on the bookshelves, Borders is going to need to know how to file this stuff. It’s just too bad that no one with a major branding budget is available to make that decision!


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