Though audio books seem new, the medium is quite old, tried, and true: Half a century ago, it was called Radio Drama. It painted pictures without a brush; wrote words without ink and paper. The story was told, and the audience would listen. The difference today is that you don’t have to crowd around the family radio at five o’clock sharp to hear worlds unfold.
Many may consider an audio book something that comes together as an afterthought when a written work is done, but this medium may be receiving new life. Audible.com has long been a distributor of written work that has been retooled for your ears. The catalogue is extensive, with over 170,000 literary works available for listening – anytime. But now they, like many other online entertainment distributors, are shifting towards creating their own content.
Enter Jeffery Deaver.
Deaver, who has had considerable success in the world of print, has written a mystery that will only be available as an auditory experience. In a New York Times article about Deaver’s newest work, entitled “The Starling Project,” the story is described as a mix of old-time radio and new-age, online content.
But how is a story different when it exists only as sounds? Or is it different at all? It may be that in the case of genres such as mystery, thriller, and horror, sound is the only thing that matters. Joe Hill, a novelist who wrote the eerie comic book series “Locke & Key,” is quoted in the article praising the possibilities of audio-only content: “You can create a picture in your mind with sound that’s every bit as vivid as a movie. A lot of filmmakers who work in horror say what’s really scary is hearing, not seeing.”
Of course, as with any kind of creative writing, bringing a story into being with only sound has its challenges. The nature of the medium seems, at first, fundamentally restrictive. And Deaver’s struggles while writing “The Starling Project” seem to hint at the possibility that this vehicle for fiction has its limits. While trying to communicate relationships between characters, Deaver saw sound effects as a potential obstacle “to incorporate… without muddying characters’ conversations.” Once the right sound effect balance was reached, Deaver still faced making the dialogue sound authentic. The article quotes Deaver as saying, “You don’t want to write too on the head and say, ‘I don’t like you, you did something bad back then.’”
It may simply be too early to tell what the strengths and weaknesses of this medium will be. But among all the promising hints, perhaps the most important is its ability to bring well-crafted fiction to the forefront of the modern consciousness. Deaver looks forward to seeing audio content take a place on the world stage again: “There are so many time-wasting alternatives to reading out there, and authors are up against formidable competition with things like Assassin’s Creed, Minecraft, Angry Birds,” he said. “This is an easier way for people to get access to good storytelling.”
WordTheatre, for its part, has released 8 collections of short stories, read by an array of notable actors, including James Franco, Sarah Clarke, Jackson Rathbone, John Heard, and many more. Works written by literary talents like Joyce Carol Oates, Ian Frazier, Brian Doyle, and O. Henry are among the titles in the Theatre’s archives. And another collection is on its way. Here on our site, there is the added benefit of seeing these stories delivered behind the podium.