Some podcasts fail before the host ever hits record.
Writing a script for your podcast is one of the most vital — and often overlooked — aspects of creating a show. The script is where the content creator decides on the structure, tone, and overall message of each particular episode in their series. Without it, their podcast runs the risk of languishing in a morass of unfocused gibberish that will leave even the most zealous of fans scratching their heads in abject confusion.
Why make a podcast script?
A podcast script is meant to structure the ideas of any given podcast episode and ensure that a clear, concise narrative is conveyed to the audience.
It’s not enough to know what a podcast script is or why you need one to make a good podcast. Knowing how to craft a podcast script that strikes the right chord with your audience is key to your success. This guide will show you the different script structures you can use, as well as explaining when the best time to use each one is. Finally, at the end of this article, you'll find a free template for your own podcast script.
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Podcast scripts can take a variety of forms; in many ways, they’re an expression of the style of podcasting that the host is most comfortable with. Some scripts are written, word-for-word templates of what the host plans to cover during the episode. Others are simply loose outlines that leaves room for spur-of-the-moment ideas to take center stage and lead the episode into surprising and uncharted territory.
Either way, there’s no “correct” way to write the script for your podcast, so long as you recognize their utility: focusing your content so your compelling podcast idea shines through.
What are the different types of podcast script structures?
When I was younger, I was fascinated by the prose writing process and devoured every word I could find from my favorite authors on the subject. The general consensus is that there is a spectrum of writing styles, most notably tied to the prep work done by the author.
Game of Thrones author and Herald of our Current Cultural Zeitgeist George R. R. Martin described the two extremes as “Architects” and “Gardeners.” The former more focused on planning the minutiae of the upcoming project, with the latter being more concerned with an initial idea they let grow in a more organic fashion.
The applications of this heuristic to scripting your podcast is clear. However, the auditory nature of podcasting infusing a certain performative quality that is largely absent in prose fiction writing. I’ve added the category of “Professor” to Martin’s original spectrum to address these elements.
This creator persona represent the furthest end of the spectrum and is geared towards content creators who want to outline almost every word they plan on saying during the course of an episode. The Professor carefully considers every word, every verbal pause they plan to take during their episode and writes it down to be read down. They have a very specific goal they want to accomplish and don’t want to waste anyone’s time while doing it. A good example of this style narrative podcast like This American Life.
What are the benefits of this script structure?
The obvious benefit of this type of prep work is that it makes it easy to quickly and concisely convey a point. You’ll always know what to say, because it will be right there in front of you. The drawback is that you have to be careful not to sound stilted and unnatural while reading from your script. The Professor has to take great care to make their episodes sound natural, usually with delivery notes as reminders. This style is recommended for new podcasts hosts as it forces you to think through every aspect of your show before you start recording.
The Architect, best exemplified by Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, exists on the midpoint of this creative spectrum. It has the same broad structural elements of the Professor, but forsakes the word-for-word planning for a bullet list of topics, conversation beats, and main points. While the content is still extremely structured — the Architect knows how many rooms and what sort of roof their creation is going to have — the rigid surety of the Professor is exchanged for a script that is still brimming full of detailed information that needs to be covered for the episode while leaving room for innovation in the actual execution of the episode.
What are the benefits of this script structure?
Architects have a strong sense of what they want to make. This form of structure is excellent for interviews as it sets out very clear guideposts for the host to follow, but leaves enough room for the guest to take the lead and offer surprising new insights into a topic.
Finally, at the far end of the creative spectrum we have the Gardeners; instead of the rough sketches developed by the Architect, this creative persona instead opts for a high-level overview of each topic that needs to be covered during the upcoming episode. While the Gardener knows what sort of seed they’ve planted with their outline for that episode — they know if they’ve planted an uplifting, hopeful seed or a dark and melancholy seed, to give a few examples — the ultimate shape of the finished product will remain just as unknown to them as it will to their listeners until they have finished recording the episode.
What are the benefits of this script structure?
This style of outlining is best if you have a lot of knowledge about the subject of the show, or if you’re co-hosting. It's much easier to be spontaneous when you have someone else engaging with your ideas.
The tools you use to help create your script are critical. Make sure you're using the right document creation software for your project.
How to create an effective podcast script
Now that we’ve explored the different types of scripts you can use to begin structuring your episodes, we now need to discuss what these scripts are meant to accomplish: creating a narrative.
Stories are how we humans make sense of the world around us. It gives us context for the strange and unexpected things that happen almost every day, and imbues them with a deeper meaning. A cohesive narrative is the most important part of a podcast. Without it, your audience won't be able to form an emotional connection with the information you want to convey.
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Below I outline the basic structure of a podcasts in order to give you a broad sense of what ingredients are necessary to brew a good story for your podcast episode:
The ‘three act structure’ of an episode
A podcast episode, like any narrative medium, can be broken down into three “acts” that serve to capture your listeners: the inciting incident, the midpoint, and the resolution.
This structure is one of the most basic in storytelling. If you look closely, you’ll find it as far back as the Mesopotamian poem The Epic of Gilgamesh all the way to each of the new entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
While it’s not the only type of story structure, it does serve as an excellent foundation with which you can craft your own narratives. Let’s take a closer look at each act in the three act structure and how you can apply it to your podcast script.
Act one: the inciting incident
The first act is where a host can use expositional detail to establish the setting that will serve to frame the rest of the coming content. It should introduce the characters of the episode (even if that character is you), their relationships, and the problem that keeps them from achieving their goals.
Additionally, this is the space in the show where you want to set the stakes. Why is what you’re talking about important? What’s the problem, and what things have been tried to fix it? This can be anything as dramatic and obvious as a murder in a narrative podcast, or as simple as a challenging HR scenario for a business show.
You want to hook your listeners with a dramatic, catching opening to your episode. Don’t lead on the solution to their problems. Promise them a discussion and exploration of the issue, but save your reveals for when they’ll be the most impactful.
Act two: the midpoint
The midpoint is where a podcast shifts from reacting to the problem to taking active steps towards fixing it. This usually involves raising the stakes by highlighting an attempt to solve the issue, most often met with failure.
This is where you start doling out the tools and information your audience will need to solve the problem that brought them to you in the first place. However, the ultimate solution is still out of reach. Highlight the lessons that were learned with the failure and show how they helped the character get to where they needed to go.
Act three: resolution
Here it is. The final destination of your podcast episode.
The resolution is where you want to let the curtain fall to the floor with a dramatic flash of fabric and finally give your audience the full picture of what is needed to solve the problem.
This is what your episode is building towards and should be the primary thing you decide in your script. No matter if you’re a Professor or a Gardener, you need to know the end point of your episode and roughly how you’re going to get there.
Get FREE script templates for your podcast
Looking for an extra bit of guidance with your podcast scripting endeavors? Check out our templates for each style of podcast scripting!
Make your choice
No matter if you’re a Professor, and Architect, or a Gardener, a good script is an essential roadmap to help ensure the success of each and every episode of your podcast. Identify what style of scripting works best for you and start making the stories that people will want to hear.
Wondering what else you need to make your podcast stand out? Check out our guide on how to start a podcast to make sure you have all your bases covered.
Piper is a former content associate at G2. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, they graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in Sociology. Their interests include podcasts, rock climbing, and understanding how people form systems of knowledge in the digital age. (they/them/theirs)