Introduction of Objects into Scenes in Non-visual Media

A podcasters worst nigtmare … or at least mine!

Many podcasters will know this struggle. You need to convey a character has a knife, or a plant, or even something as mundane as food without it sounding strange and unnatural. While it can be tempting to have your character state, “Oh, why golly gosh! Look I have myself a plant!” to keep the story moving, it can sound stilted. Here are 5 ways I’ve used objects in scenes without sounding like a robot (hopefully!).

Photo by Tommy Lopez on

Oh, why golly gosh! Look I have myself a plant!

To immediately contradict myself, sometimes, especially in comedic scenes, you can do exactly that. For example, if your characters are trying to distract a villain, and as a part of who they are and the tone of the story they may simply grab a plant and exclaim “Oh! Look at this plant!” It will be silly and potentially funny and a really great way to move things along. My general rule of thumb is that, if something serves the story but goes against the traditional rules, that’s fine! For new writers, this may be difficult to discern, or even sometimes for more experienced writers, but trying things out and breaking the rules is what helps us learn our craft, so it might be fun to give the obvious a shot and see how it works!

 Do I need to state what the object is, or will people assume?

This rule looks at how distinctive certain object sounds are when combined with the correct context. For example, say you are creating a nonfiction podcast about a crazy restaurant. You might need the audience to know there is a knife in the scene as one of the characters might accidentally nip their hand. While you could have them talk about the knife they’re using, or have one of the other characters say something like ‘be careful with that knife’ instead you can use chopping sounds and then when they accidentally nip their finger their reaction will still make sense thanks to the audio context and the context of the show itself.

It’s not unheard of for kitchen staff to accidentally nip themselves while cooking, however, if someone were to accidentally cut themselves while swimming you would probably need the verbal introduction of the knife. But who knows? Context does a lot of the work!

Do people need to know what the object actually is?

This rule looks at the importance of the object itself, is it important you know the character is eating a peanut butter sandwich or do we just need to know that they are eating? While it can be tempting to be specific about the objects the characters are using sometimes it’s not necessary, for example, if you need your character to throw their food at another character, we simply need to know that first, character A was eating and then threw food at character B. This whole bit can mostly be carried through sound effects for example:

SFX: wrapping rusting light chewing noise

CHARACTER B: Just saying it wasn’t that – (sound of crinkling and then light thwack as sandwich hits character B) – hey!

While the audio editor will need a general idea about what kind of food, to create or find a good sound effect, the audience only needs to know the basics. However, if the character has a nut allergy, eats food, and then starts to have an allergic reaction you’ll need to get more specific, something more like:

SFX: wrapping rusting light chewing noise

CHARACTER B: Just saying it wasn’t that – (sound of crinkling and then light thwack as sandwich hits character B) – hey!

CHARACTURE A: Gasping wheezing sounds

CHARACTER B: Are you alright! Was that a – dude! That was my peanut butter sandwich! Your jam sandwich was over there!

Sometimes the audience needs to know and sometimes they don’t, it can be tricky but once you figure out how much to tell, life gets easier!

These are all well and good, but I need to be explicit about my object

In some scenes, there’s no getting around it and you need the audience to know exactly what your character is holding. This can be especially difficult with obscure contextless objects, but before you continue ask yourself one more time does it really need to be this object and does the audience really need to know, because it can be tricky, and sometimes if the object is not that important it can be easier to simply change the object.

However, if it has to be a specific object there are two main ways to communicate what it is and even then, they can come off a bit like the plant situation if you’re not careful. 1) the confused question and 2) the monologue in disbelief. The confused question is when you have two or more characters in a scene and looks a bit like this:

CHARACTURE A: Is that a candlestick?

CHARACTER B: unfortunately

For this to work well you really need to build the context around the scene and regardless of what you do it will be painfully obvious. However, it will do the job, it can also help to disguise the obviousness of the object for the characters to debate the object a bit, which may seem counter-intuitive, but people will generally assume the object to be there for comedic purposes instead of whyever else you need it later on:

CHARACTURE A: Is that a candlestick?

CHARACTER B: unfortunately

CHARACTURE A: Is that really the best you can do?

CHARACTER B: Well, we are in an abandoned house, with no electricity, no access to torches, and no time, I wasn’t exactly going to spend half an hour hunting for something that might not even be here!

CHARACTURE A: But what if the curtains catch fire?!

CHARACTER B: I think we might have some bigger problems; don’t cha think?!

It’s not flawless but it does work, and your audience should then remember the object in question. Additionally, if you want to throw your audience off your tail just a little bit, you can add a couple other weird objects into the scene, that are discarded quickly or are thought to have use but actually don’t.

Option 2 is the disbelieving monologue where a character focuses on how silly or strange something is as a form of distracting themselves from or emphasizing a situation and is usually done when there is only one character, this working similarly to that of option 1, for example:

CHARACTER A: I can’t believe it, all I found was a shovel and now I’m going to enter the creepy very possibly haunted house with nothing but a, a – (sigh) when I see them again, I going to shovel them right into their gave!

Once again it will be obvious, but it does flow more smoothly than simply stating “I am holding a shovel”.

These are not all the ways you can introduce objects into a scene just some of my favourite, and hopefully, some will help with your audio project! Happy audio creation!

By Ashley Thompson