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How to Write a True Crime Podcast, Part 1

Updated: Nov 12, 2019

Imagine the most difficult essay you ever had to write. For that professor who was a hawk for plagiarism and called you out on unnamed sources every...single...time. While you were studying for finals in four other classes and "parents' weekend" was coming.


That's what it feels like to write a true crime podcast.


For years before I started writing podcasts, I wrote fictional or dramatized work. I did this partly because I enjoy making up stories, but also because I was lazy. I'd tried journalism in grad school and only lasted one semester. Interviews, analysis, fact checking -- these things just weren't for me.


But as I turned into a grownup and felt my brain starting to atrophy, I decided to give nonfiction writing another chance -- this time in the form of documentary-style, true crime podcasts.


Here's what I've learned so far on how to do it:


Step One: Choose a subject.


This is obvious, but I'm writing it down to add that in my opinion, the subject doesn't have to be something no one's ever heard of before. You can write about a familiar topic, as long as you have a unique angle. Which leads us to...


Step Two: Pick an angle.


Here's where your authorship comes in. Who are you, and what about you relates to the subject? Were you or was someone you know affected by the crime in question? Does your professional or personal background give you unique insight into the subject? What do you have to say about it that no one else can?


Step Three: Research, research, research.


One thing I've noticed researching true crime podcasts is how much even reputable sources vary. There are errors everywhere. If you can do original research -- talking to people who were involved yourself, for instance -- awesome. If you're relying on interviews, articles, and other materials provided by others, make sure you crosscheck your facts to get the most accurate possible picture.


Step Four: Outline.


Podcasts are a unique form of writing in that the audience can't easily skim or skip ahead. They have to be structured in such a way that tension is continually building leading up to critical story reveals.


I'll get into all that, and the actual writing process, in my next post. Keep reading...


Meagan Daine is a television writer and podcast writer interested in cons, cults, and other ways people try to take over the world. Catch her latest podcasts at Parcast on Spotify, or follow her on Twitter/IG: @writeordienow

 

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