Audio Book vs Audio Drama


in medias res continues its audio book obsession with a look into an emerging trend in the audio book world: audio dramas.

What’s the difference between an audio book and an audio drama?
A lot apparently. An audio book started out life as a book. Not a comic book or a screen play but a book. A book that sometime narrated. A book that included actual description of important things like wtf is going on in the action sequences, some kind of introduction to who the characters are and some reason to care about them.

Audio dramas start out life as a graphic novel or screenplay. They are meant  to be accompanied by visuals. The visual element is the important part of these works. Audio productions have no visual element. They are pure sound. Do you see a problem? I do and I’m not alone.

When done right, an audio drama it’s a beautiful thing. It’s like listening to a play or a modern take on a radio drama. You get everything you need from dialogue. Sound effects add to the audio picture and free up characters so they don’t have to announced what they’re doing. They clue the listener in to what is going on. This is really important and I shouldn’t have to stress this and yet I do.

There are some audio dramas out there that go over board with the sound effects and sacrifice intelligibility. They forget that I am listening and that I can’t see a damned thing. I have no idea WTF the characters are screaming at or WTF they doing while screaming. Listening to a bad audio drama is like listening to the last 45 minutes of Jurrassic World while wearing a blindfold. You have no idea WTF is going on.

I submit to you two examples. One of an audio drama done right and one of it done wrong. First up, Six Degrees of Assassination written by M. J. Arlidge and narrated by a Andrew Scott, Freema Agyeman, Hermione Norris, Clive Mantle, Clare Grogan, Geraldine Somerville, Julian Rhind-Tutt.

Six Degrees of Assassination: An Audible Drama | [M J Arlidge]

Six Degrees of Assassination is tight. Every word is necessary. Characters do not engage in subplots or conversations that have no relation to the central plot–finding the prime minister’s killer and preventing more terrorist attacks. Each scene shows us a slice of a life affected by the assassination but all those lives are connected. Its the personal connections that drive the story forward. We’re riding along with the detectives conducting the investigation; we’re with the deputy prime minister as she assumes power and so on.

The audio drama holds up a prism to that one event, the assassination, and shows us through conversation with a select group of characters all its effects on a country, a family and everyone associated with the assassinated man. It’s not a long drama. It runs for about 6 hours and it’s an intense, edge of your seat ride. Scenes are only as long as they have to be and we only see the parts that matter to the story. There are twists galore but they are easy to follow because the book stays true to its course.

There is no narrator. Everything is conveyed through conversations between characters and those conversations don’t wander. They stay on point but come across as a natural outcome of the events and circumstances the characters are dealing with. No plot talk here.

You do have to toggle the volume up and down but not too often. Sound effects are kept to a minimum and used only to clue in the listener in places where it would be awkward to have someone announce something or where such an announcement would break the narrative flow/tone etc. It’s stark portrayal makes it work as an audio drama.  I give it 5 stars for originality, a great story and compelling characters that you can’t help investing in emotionally as the drama wraps you in the fictive dream it skillfully weaves.

Alridge is a writer though. He has several books to his name which might explain his successful audio drama. He took the elements that make a good novel and applied them to an audio drama. He kept in mind that we can’t see anything. It’s up to the author to create the image. In his audio drama, Alridge chose to use conversation to push the plot forward by raising the stakes and to paint the pictures we need to understand what’s going on. The sound effects the producer made helped to underscore that but it was already skillfully woven into the work itself.

However, those elements, characterization, etc were not woven into Locke and Key written by Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez. It was narrated by: Haley Joel Osment, Tatiana Maslany, Kate Mulgrew and a full cast. I found out through reading comments left by other disgruntled listeners that Locke and Key began life as a graphic novel. Had I known that I wouldn’t have picked it up. I’m debating returning it because it was so bad. Will Audible take back a free book?

FREE: Locke & Key | Joe Hill,Gabriel Rodriguez

Locke and Key is a good example of what not to do in an audio book. Half the time I couldn’t figure out who was who and wtf was going on. There’s very little narration. Perhaps 10 minutes of narration in the entire 13 hour book. More narration between scenes would have helped to clue the listener in. Or more intelligible conversations about something other than BS that has nothing to do with the plot. I’ll take either. That’s strike one.

To make up for that lack, characters indulged in lengthy, awkward monologues that were tedious to listen to and often didn’t elucidate wtf was going on because the character was screaming, crying, exited or otherwise engrossed in being highly emotional. There’s a lot of crying in this book and the characters hold broken conversions while indulging in hysterics making it impossible to understand wtf they are talking about. That’s strike two.

Weepy characters are not interesting. Weepy characters who whine through one cliche after another are even worse. Scene after scene is spent on characters who have nothing to do with the keys or the Locke house. Um, the keys and the supposedly cool things that they can do are supposed to be the focus of the book. Not all this high school BS. That’s strike three.

It’s set in Lovecraft, MA and yet the story gets bogged down in teenage drama that has nothing to do with the plot or the premise. The kind of BS should be absent from a book aimed at adults. The locale keeps promising Lovecraftian “soul eating tapeworms” (and the characters even mention these intriguing monsters) but it fails to deliver every time. Makes me question why they set in Lovecraft, MA. Why not Bumblefuck, MA? Strike four and that one really pissed me off.

I was hoping they’d take the stupid omega key, open that black door and let a Ktulu-esque creature through to annihilate the whining teenagers en mass. Or, the whiny teenagers are sucked through the door by the Ktulu-esque creature and wind up in “soul eating tapeworm city” as promised.

Ala Peter Clines’ 14 or The Fold, both are fantastic books that deliver the goods. Yes, they were books first and that is why they don’t suck. No such luck there. Just 2 hours of screaming, crying and snatches of dialogue that are are an unlistenable jumble. I would have been really pissed if I had bought this for something other than free. Buyer definitely beware. 

2 thoughts on “Audio Book vs Audio Drama

  1. I find that audio dramas that were written with the intention of being audio only (i.e. not based on something visual) work brilliantly. The BBC has a long history of great audio dramas and plays – they know how to do it.

    If you’re a geek, Big Finish does a range of audios that are terrific for the same reason – they were written with the intention of being audio, not adapted from visual scripts.

    I’ve found that audio adaptations of comics and films are pretty terrible, for the most part. So much relies on the picture that the person adapting them can’t figure out how to convey their intentions with only sounds.

    Audio drams of books are a bit more hit and miss for me, but I’ve heard some good ones and I know they can work. Good Omens was very well done recently (by the BBC, possibly not coincidentally).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the suggestion! I’ve listened to some of the BBC’s audio dramas and they’re really good. I haven’t heard The Omen yet. I’ll put that on my wish list and Big Finish’s work too. I’m always looking for the next great listen. Thank you again for the suggestions


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