Parsec Committee: Recognize Full-Cast

The following is the text of an email I sent this evening to the Parsec Awards Committee. If you agree, please chime in in the comments.

Dear Committee–

A couple years ago, the categories surround podcast novels were modified so that single reader podcast novels were given their own category, while full-cast productions were transferred in to the long form audio drama category. While this did solve the persistent issue that had excellent novelists like Nathan Lowell losing to full-cast productions on the basis of production lushness rather than writing merit, it has introduced a more basic, and more intractable, problem.

To explain:
The Audio Drama artform is a well-defined one, stretching back to the very beginnings of radio. The Audio Drama community is a vibrant one, with many sets of awards all basically agreeing on the formula. These are dramatic, scripted presentations–a movie for the ears, so to speak. But Audio Dramas are not, and never have been, audiobooks. The audiodrama version of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, for example, has a different text from the audiobook version–it is a dramatic adaptation, with narrative weight shifted from the narrator to the dialogue and the soundscaping.

Full-cast audiobooks are a younger art form, dating back only to the 1980s or so (Simon and Schuster sometimes uses this format, and Full Cast Audio is a company wholly devoted to it). These productions contain the full text (or abridged text) of the novel, complete with all narration. The text of the novel is not adapted for the production, with the occasional exception of omitting dialogue tags. Soundscaping and music may be used, but not to the exclusion of the text. In other words, these are Audio *Books,* not Audio *Dramas.* Full-cast is a fully distinct art form, with a fully distinct history, format requirements, and production ethos.

I submit that conflating the two in a single category is a grave mistake. It does injustice to the unique difficulties and challenges involved in adapting a book to dramatic form or in writing an original dramatic script on one side, and to the different production challenges and more spare style and choices necessitated by the full cast producer.

The Full-Cast producers community is a bona-fide community within the podiobooks/podcast fiction community, even to the point where there is a podcast dedicated to teaching people the ins and outs of the form (The Full-Cast Podcast, which is a 2011 Parsec finalist for “Best Podcast about SpecFic Content Creation”). Yet, as a result of the category changes two years ago, Full-Cast productions have been effectively sidelined. Prominent full-cast community producers such as myself, Philippa Ballantine, Abbie Hilton, Chris Lester, Starla Huchton, et al., who produce full-length *unadapted* full-cast audiobooks have been placed in direct competition with long running episodic series such as Decoder Ring Theater (which is in no way a “long form” drama, yet consistently gets nominated as such), Prometheus Radio Theater (which does actual long-form audio drama serials), and other excellent dramatic production companies whose art form is entirely distinct from the full-cast format.

I urge you to rectify this situation for the 2012 Parsec Awards by giving full-cast audiobooks its own category (or categories, long-form and short-form, as there are a number of casts that do full-cast short stories). Bring us full-cast producers back into the fold, with a category where we compete on the merits of our own form, rather than being artificially forced into a category with equally excellent, but fully distinct, Audio Dramas.

Thank you for your time.
-J. Daniel Sawyer
2009 Parsec Finalist, Best Newcomer, Predestination and Other Games Of Chance
2009 Parsec Nominee, Best short story, Sculpting God
2010 Parsec Nominee, Down From Ten

P.S. This email also will appear later this evening as a blog post at http://www.jdsawyer.net

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21 Comments

  1. I suppose I see your point. I don’t know that I was ever bothered by the categories or competition therein. Seems a bit too much like splitting hairs to me. I *DO* think podfading or incompletion should be factored into the process of finalist and winner criteria, but that’s my only beef with the Parsecs. See also the winner for Best New Podcaster/Team 2010. *cough* But I’m not bitter. Neither is Alex White. *cough*

  2. Hhmm… Interesting post, and I have to say I agree with you. I hadn’t really thought about the difference between an audio drama and a full-cast audiobook, but there is a distinct one. Audio dramas, by their nature, have a more dynamic tempo to them, but they lack some of the nuance and subtlety of a full-cast audiobook. The audio adaptations of my short stories would definitely be in the full-cast audiobook category, as the only difference between the text story and the audio one is the omission of dialog tags. I hope they take your email under advisement.

  3. Thanks so much for this post. As a Parsec committee member, I can tell you that these categories have been difficult to tease apart, and we plan to discuss them again this year. Any advice you all can give us on clear distinctions between them would be very helpful!
    We hope to improve the awards and its categories each year, and are always welcome to helpful comments! parsecawards@gmail.com

  4. What Dan said.

    An audio drama is a script with little or no narration. It looks like a movie script. The music and sound effects play the roll of the narrator.

    A fullcast production is a book read by a crew of actors. Structurally, it has more in common with a solo-read novel than with an audio drama.

    The requirements for writing and producing audio dramas and fullcast novels are very different. They are apples and oranges. Calling a category “audio drama” and then forcing fullcast productions to compete in that category is unfair to both art forms.

    There are plenty of candidates for both audio drama and fullcast novel categories. The Parsecs have created far more obscure categories in the past, which sometimes have fewer than 5 nominees. For instance, this year they are trialing a category for “Best Youth Driven Speculative Fiction Podcast.” And yet there’s no category for Fullcast? Come on, guys. It looks like you don’t value us.

  5. If you need another example, think of all the short fiction markets. Every single one of them that runs multi-voice stories does fullcast productions, not audio dramas.

    Why? Because to turn the story into an audio drama, they would have to rewrite it. Significant changes are required to turn a good manuscript into a good script. These markets don’t buy the rights to change an author’s story, so they don’t. Instead, they produce it in fullcast.

    Short fiction markets that authors can actually put on your writing resumes are extremely valuable to the community. They reach out into the author community as a whole, not just the podcast community. Managing a slush pile, paying authors for their work, and producing that work in a timely fashion are serious challenges.

    I personally think that paying markets deserve their own category, but even the recognition of a fullcast category would help. All of their multi-voice stories are fullcast, and they all get lumped in with the flashier audio dramas.

  6. Excellent point, so well expressed that I having nothing to add but my agreement.

  7. As the producer of the Fullcast Podcast, I am very aware of the distinction, and have tried to spread the word. At the same time, I sympathize with the Parsec Committee. I know they’re trying to reward good storytelling in as fair a way as they can manage. With that in mind, here is how I would explain my take on the categories:

    Defining audio drama by number of voices (3 or more) is a mistake. A full cast audiobook with as many as 25 voices is still closer to a straight read novel than an audio drama. In a full cast audio-book the voices and effects are supportive. The information is in the prose, and would be similarly conveyed in a straight read.

    Audio drama comes from a script, which any script writer will tell you is a very different form of storytelling. This is the defining difference. Script vs story should be the category difference. If number of voices is an additional category distinction, it should only occur after the form of the writing has been separated.

    I understand separating full cast stories from straight read, but putting them in with audio drama is actually more out of whack than leaving them with straight read in the first place. I think there are enough good full cast productions out there to have three forms represented in the parsec awards.

  8. I agree wholeheartedly, and couldn’t have said it any better.

  9. Dan I agree thoroughly. You took my thoughts from way back and made them succinct—a talent you have young man.
    Audio drama, with no ‘he said, she said’ in it, is quite a different beast, and lumping full cast podiobook production in there is a disservice to both forms.
    I know the Parsec committee works long and hard, but I think having three categories would be the most fair way to handle this.

  10. I’m just gonna sit here and smile and applaud. Thanks for chiming in, one and all!

  11. Dan,

    I agree whole-heartedly. I ReTweeted you link to this post/letter & can I suggest everyone email PARSECAWARDS@GMAIL.COM this link, or the tweet, or your original thoughts on the matter

    Politely displaying the size of audience behind this request to the Parsecs might go a long way in helping them come to internal agreement on creating a FullCast category.

    Thanks again Dan, eloquent as always.

  12. Of course, the most negative part of the current categories is the mislabeling. While we in the producers space know how the categories evolved and are pretty understanding, hardcore fans of audio drama who might try out a podcast that won “best audio drama” and end up very confused. It would be as if your brand new novel won an award for “best screenplay” would you
    a) Just be happy for the award and the publicity or
    b) Dread the influx of future e-mails bemoaning “this is a novel, not a screenplay! How dare you advertise this way! You wasted my time!”

    In the end, I think it is pretty cool how the landscape keeps changing. Makes it so these awards need to keep changing with the times though.

  13. When we had to send in our samples from The Dunesteef, I mentioned this same problem to them, and got into a conversation with Susan about it. Apparently, before I mentioned it to her, she’d never heard something called a full cast production. She did say that they would look into it, and likely change things for next year. So, hopefully, combining that with your letter to them, they’ll go ahead with it. The problem that she said they have is coming up with specific, hard and fast rules to designate what is one thing and what is the other thing. I don’t think those would be too hard to do with the difference between full cast and audio drama.

  14. I was somewhat confused by their rationale when they moved the full cast podcast novel into the audio drama category. While I listen to many full cast productions, I also listen to excellent audio drama series such as those put out by Julie Hoverson and Slipgate Nine Productions. I’m all in favor of tweaking the award structure to recognize these obvious distinctions. The only caveat I would provide is to take caution that splitting the awards into three doesn’t spawn an explosion of categories that would have the effect of diluting the awards in general. We’ve seen this happen in other venues, and I’d like to see the parsecs avoid this pitfall.
    Well stated.

    • James —
      Thanks for chiming in!
      If that is indeed an overwhelming concern, then full-cast is far better folded back into audiobooks rather than classed with drama. Cosmetics aside, full-cast audiobooks are much more closely related to audiobooks than to audio drama.

      Thanks to everyone else for contributing too! Keep ’em coming 🙂

      -Dan

  15. As a podcast comsumer who enjoys single voice audio books, Full-cast audiobooks and Audio Drama, I agree completely.

  16. I’m an avid listener to both short fiction podcasts and full multi-part stories, and there is a big difference between audio dramas and full-cast productions. The differences between how they are written, produced, and cast is large enough that I agree they should have separate categories.

  17. I agree with What has been said. I just started a podcast which includes some full cast productions, among other things. Previous to that, I produced a few episodes of the Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine which only runs full cast stories, and have been Parsec Finalist for two years now. I have also listened to several audio dramas. There is a difference.

  18. I couldn’t agree more with the letter, and the comments. The Audio Drama categories were loaded with amazing productions and I felt the category was almost too big. Making a move like this would be a very smart, and strong decision on the part of the committee.

  19. Dan,

    I absolutely agree that they are two distinct forms, each with their own special strengths. How can I most effectively let the Parsec personages, (as well as other award bestowing bodies) know my experience in the podcasting world?

    These awarding bodies need to know the forms which they oversee. All the forms of podcasting are great, yet they vary widely in the way they present literature.

    How do we educate them, and maybe learn more about the process as we do so?

  20. Thanks for all this wonderful input. As a Parsec Committee member for more than three years, I have to say that categories are always a topic that much thought and debate is put into when reconciling eligibility, fairness and inclusion within the categories.

    I Appreciate Mr Sawyer for bringing this up this discussion, as well as the comments we received both here, though email and twitter.

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