I never knew I wanted to be a closed caption writer until now. I’m didn’t even know this job existed. I saw a post about the Stranger Things writers, and how they conveyed through writing the experience and sounds of the show. And being a fan of the show (a weird plot set in the 1980s portraying kids in peril? #Winning) I had to read about it.
I never thought about how these super cool writers have to write more than just what is said. They have to convey the sound of what is happening around the characters, way beyond the [eerie music plays] and [loud footsteps] basic information.
These expert storytellers have to write what the characters are saying (I would guess that’s the easy part) and convey the “sound mood” of the scene. Think of how hard that would be — convey the sound mood. Especially in an intense and scary show or movie. You want people watching without sound to have the same intense and weird experience as those watching without the subtitles.
Accompanying a subtitle writer is something I never knew I needed: The English Timed Text Style Guide. It’s basically the the guide for how to write subtitles. It considers things like timing and the beat of conversation, which I had never even thought about.
There’s line character limits, how to show when characters interrupt each other and how to show when a character has an inner thought. There’s even a suggestion to limit exclamation point use (always great advice) and how to use interrobangs (I had to look up interrobangs, and then vaguely remembered learning about them 30 years ago as a journalism major).
There is so much more to think about when having to write sound. What’s the reading speed of an average adult? How do you write sound effects and spoken dialogue? What if the characters are talking and there are song lyrics in the background?
After reading about the Stranger Things crew, I turned on subtitles for a couple of shows. I was disappointed in the lackluster effort now that I’ve seen how subtitles can expertly be created.