From the People's Daily App.
This is Story in the Story.
Radio dramas are making a comeback in China after first appearing on the mainland in the 1980s.
According to the 2016 Working Report from the Radio Drama Society of China, radio dramas are usually lesser-known plays supported by Internet literature fan clubs or cliché dramas produced by traditional radio stations that either tell stories based on Chinese history or extol good deeds and social virtues.
The radio play adaptation of “The Three-Body Problem” has been running for nearly four months, with 16 episodes released so far on Ximalaya, which have been broadcast 15 million times.
Every Wednesday, a new 30-minute episode is released. The producers have planned to fit the entire trilogy into 80 episodes.
Industry insiders see radio dramas as the entertainment industry's entry into China’s booming IP adaptation market to compete with visual content providers, such as TV networks and online streaming platforms.
Today’s Story in the Story looks at how radio dramas are making a comeback in China.
A poster of the play. (Photo: China Daily)
Qiu Chenyun, 35, took up a new position in Nanjing, far from family and friends after relocation from Suzhou. Reading may be a good hobby, but like many, she had little quality time for herself on the helter-skelter of modern life.
One of her friends recommended the radio adaptation of “The Three-Body Problem, the best-selling science fiction novel by Liu Cixin.
She hesitated at first, because she had tried to read the novel, but found it difficult to follow the loosely narrated story with its many characters and strange scientific concepts.
"The adaptation is excellent. Compared with other audiobooks I am listening to, this one is better because it is played by many different people, rather than read by one person. The sound effects and background music are vivid, too," she said.
“The Three-Body Problem” has been the most popular radio play on Ximalaya, said Jiang Feng, vice-president of the online platform. The most common comments on the app are "too short" and "new episodes released too slow.”
"On average, we can produce one episode in one to two weeks. If we increase the length to one hour, the production cycle will have to double," said Zi Tangsu, CEO of 729 Voice Studio.
Despite its popularity around the world, the trilogy would be difficult, with its imaginative plot, to adapt for screens. Comparatively, radio presents the story with just voices and can avoid these difficulties, says Cheng Han, scriptwriter of the radio play.
One of the key principles for radio play adaptation is to fully respect the original work and change or delete as little as possible.
"It's because most of the audience are fans of the books or those who decide to listen due to the books' fame, so they want the authentic story," Cheng said.
Cheng Han, scriptwriter of the radio play, The Three-Body Problem. (Photo: China Daily)
However, she deletes visual descriptions, such as those about views and clothing, if it does not influence the plot.
There are other difficulties. One is how to use sound to represent spectacular scenes. Another is how to explain, in a simple but interesting way, the complex scientific concepts that stretch over pages in the novel.
"Because listeners can only concentrate for a limited time, it's no good to explain the concepts through monologues or dialogues. Instead, we usually use sound effects to achieve that purpose," Cheng said.
Although the radio play adaptation needs to be authentic, compared with the first book, the second book of the trilogy, “Dark Forest,” contains too many characters and a complicated narrative, in which Liu hides the clues.
"We will focus on a certain character in one or two successive episodes to thread all the clues about him or her so that our audience can understand clearly what happens to different characters,” she said.
Compared with image, sound can give listeners bigger scope for imagination, "which means a radio play might be one of the best forms to present science fiction,” Liu said in the trailer of the radio play.
Apart from scriptwriting, another difficulty in making this radio play was to find the right voice performers. There are more than 40 voice actors and actresses in the first season.
"When interviewing performers, we need to see whether their voices can match the image of the roles and whether they can properly represent the characters," said Liu Cong, the radio drama’s director who plays ‘Da Shi,’ the policeman.
(Produced by Nancy Yan Xu, Lance Crayon, Brian Lowe and Da Hang. Music by bensound.com. Text from China Daily and Global Times.)