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Archive for November, 2012

SO YOU WANT TO WRITE A RADIO PLAY

The articles on this site are taken from my lecture notes.

I have been a visiting lecturer in the School of Media Studies at the University of Ulster, Coleraine since 2010.

I take first year students in a short Radio Drama Course.

The course covers writing, producing, editing, sound effects and music.

By the end of the course students will have written and produced a 5 minute play.

These articles have been taken from the most successful parts of the course.

They are a practical guide to writing and producing a play for radio to a high standard.

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HOW TO WRITE A RADIO PLAY.

By John Morrison

danq

The Three Tools of Radio

In Movies or Television the rule is Show Don’t Tell. In Radio the opposite is true. There’s nothing to show. You must tell.

We deal only in what people can hear. To do this we have three tools.

1. Talk
2. Sound Effects
3. Music

DIALOGUE AND MONOLOGUE

Dialogue in radio has to do much more than in any other medium. It has to carry the plot forward, portray the characters, place them in time and space, provide the props and paint the scenery.

A great deal of our craft is using dialogue in a sophisticated way to provide information without sounding like we’re hitting the reader over the head with exposition and scene setting. This requires a great deal of imagination and hard work, honing the script to sound natural yet providing a vast amount of information.

We are also constricted in the number of characters we can use in a scene.
Having too many characters confuses the audience.

Characters must be distinctive. We must find different sexes, different ages, different accents, different nationalities. Strong dialects are important tools. The audience is confused if a group of characters is say, all male, twenty something, English and working class. We must look for variety.

Dialogue is not conversation however. It is everyday speech boiled down to a concentrated essence where every word has a reason for being there. It has to:

Illustrate character.

Carry the plot.

Build atmosphere and set a location.

Monologue is great weapon in radio writing. Great speeches are much more effective when they are told into one ear rather than shouted from a stage.

SOUND EFFECTS

Sound effects are very useful in writing a radio play. They should however be used with discretion.

The main job of sound effects is to create atmosphere. The mood of a piece can be set by sound effects. They can’t, however, tell the story for you.

It’s very difficult to create location using only sound effects. To suggest a beach is possible for example but to locate a particular place in a city is not. A general city atmosphere however can be created through sound.

Strong sounds create instant atmosphere. A bell ringing, a seagull etc. are easliy identified but mushy sounds like traffic and rain are best thought of as background..

A surprising amount can be achieved by sound perspective. A voice approaching for example is created by standing back from the microphone. This is much more effective than footsteps for example.

Voices in a small room sound very different from voices in a cathedral or open space. Somebody phoning from a bathroom is different from someone phoning from an office.

There is a current trend for on site recording which gets over the problem of creating ambient sound by using the real sound of the place.

Live effects/spot effects v Pre-recorded effects.
A whole range of pre-recorded sound effects is now available to the radio producer but live effects or spot effects are still used.
One of the most famous spot effects is using coconut shells for horse’s hooves. Others are a hot water bottle for being sick or a sawn off bicycle pump and cork with Alka Seltzer, for opening a champagne bottle and pouring it out.

MUSIC

Music is a powerful generator of atmosphere. It gives a clue to what sort of story it is. It also sets mood and signals change like the arrival of a ghost or recalling a memory.

Music can capture emotions and images. It can swing you instantaneously from one mood to another. It can, as subtly as a raised eyebrow, give to a phrase an extra, and possibly contradictory, level of meaning. It can provide unity, where unity might otherwise be difficult to achieve.

Again it can’t tell the story for you. Dialogue must do that.

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danq
The writer, John Morrison, with the cast of Dan Quixote.

WRITING A RADIO PLAY – HOW NOT TO DO IT.
· This is a mystery/crime drama made for training use at the BBC and has never been broadcast.
·
· It shows the cliches of radio drama. The main problems are.

Giving the audience far more information than it needs.
Telling the bleeding obvious instead of finding interesting ways to convey information.
Overusing sound effects.
Relying on sound effects to tell the story etc. etc..
·
· Here are the first two pages of the script.
·

ANNOUNCER: Midweek Theatre
· (MUSIC and keep under:)
·
· We present John Pullen and Elizabeth Proud as Clive and Laura Barrington, Malcolm Hayes as Heinrich Oppenheimer, Diana Olsson as Gerda, and Dorit Welles as The Barmaid, with John Hollis, Anthony Hall and Eraser Kerr, in This Gun That I Have in My Right Hand is Loaded by Timothy West , adapted for radio by H. and Cynthia Old Hardwick-Box.
·
·
· This Gun That I Have in My Right Hand is Loaded.
·
· (BRING UP MUSIC THEN CROSSFADE TO TRAFFIC NOISES.
· WIND BACKED BY SHIP’S SIRENS, DOG BARKING, HANSOM CAB, ECHOING FOOTSTEPS, KEY CHAIN, DOOR OPENING, SHUTTING)
·
·
· LAURA:(off) Who’s that?
·
· CLIVE:Who do you think, Laura, my dear? Your husband.
·
· LAURA:(approaching) Why, Clive!
·
· RICHARD:Hello, Daddy.
·
· CLIVE:Hello, Richard. My, what a big boy you’re getting.
· Let’s see, how old are you now?
·
· RICHARD:I’m six, Daddy.
·
· LAURA:Now Daddy’s tired, Richard, run along upstairs and I’ll call you when it’s supper time.
·
· RICHARD:All right, Mummy.
· (RICHARD RUNS HEAVILY UP WOODEN STAIRS)
·
· LAURA:What’s that you’ve got under your arm, Clive?
·
· CLIVE:It’s an evening paper, Laura.
· (PAPER NOISE) I’ve just been reading about the Oppenheimer smuggling case, (effort noise) Good gracious, it’s nice to sit down after that long train journey from the insurance office in the City.
·
· LAURA:Let me get you a drink, Clive darling.
· (LENGTHY POURING, CLINK)
·
· CLIVE:Thank you, Laura, my dear.
· (CLINK, SIP, GULP)
· Aah! Amontillado, eh? Good stuff. What are you having?
·
· LAURA:I think I’ll have a whisky, if it’s all the same to you.
· (CLINK, POURING, SYPHON)
·
· CLIVE:Whisky, eh? That’s a strange drink for an attractive auburn-haired girl of twenty nine. Is there . anything wrong?
·
· LAURA:No, it’s nothing, Clive, I
·
· CLIVE:Yes?
·
· LAURA:No, really, I –
·
· CLIVE:You’re my wife, Laura. Whatever it is, you can tell me.
· I’m your husband. Why, we’ve been married – let me see – eight years, isn’t it?
·
· LAURA:Yes, I’m sorry Clive, I … I’m being stupid. It’s .just . this.
· (PAPER NOISE)
·
· CLIVE:This? Why, what is it, Laura?
·
· LAURA:It’s . it’s a letter.
· I found it this morning in the letter box. The Amsterdam postmark and the strange crest on the back … it … frightened me. It’s addressed to you. Perhaps you’d better open it.
·
· CLIVE:Ah ha.
· (ENVELOPE TEARING AND PAPER NOISE)
· Oh, dash it, I’ve left my reading glasses at the office. Read it to me, will you, my dear.
·
· LAURA:Very well.
· (PAPER NOISE)
· Let’s see. ‘Dear Mr Barrington. If you would care to meet me in the Lounge Bar of Berridge’s Hotel at seven-thirty on Tuesday evening the twenty-first of May, you will hear something to your advantage.
· (CROSSFADE TO OPPENHEIMER’S VOICE
· AND BACK AGAIN IMMEDIATELY)

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SO YOU WANT TO WRITE RADIO DRAMA

BASICS OF STORY TELLING.
By John Morrison
chris and vic cut off (2)

Before writing drama for radio we must first look at what story telling actually is.

The Beginning.
Start the story at a dramatic moment. Drop your listeners straight into the action. Introduce your main character through action.

Character
Who is the story about? What does he/she want? What does he need? Who or what is stopping him getting it?

Structure
Set up a struggle. As the character tries to get what he/she wants he is continually frustrated.

Set Up—– Conflict—– Climax—–Resolution

Plot

The story develops with twists and turns and sub-plots. The sub-plot is a lesser story linked to the main story.

There must be conflict. Drama= Conflict. There has to be an emotional, financial, human, moral, or physical struggle to make listeners laugh or cry.

Climax

All the strands of the story are brought together in a surprising conclusion that makes sense. Does the main character get what he/she wants? How?

Resolution

The world of the story needs to have changed by the end. What is this change? The listener needs to be satisfied.

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WRITING A RADIO PLAY. BASIC INSTRUCTIONS. FIND THE STORY.

Figure out the central topic/theme of your radio play. Radio drama can be about pretty much anything, but it has to be driven solely by dialogue, narration and sound effects. This makes plot-driven genres such as science fiction, adventure, suspense and mystery especially well suited.

Create a protagonist and a few supporting characters. Because radio play has no visual reference, you’ll want a lot of contrast in your characters. Having characters of different ages, genders, nationalities and subcultures with different ways of talking will broaden the appeal of your radio play and make it easier to follow.

Come up with a good central conflict. Does the protagonist have to catch a villain before he strikes again? Does he have to discover a way to escape from the strange planet where he has been stranded? Does he have to reconcile with a friend from whom he has been growing apart? Writing out a clear explanation of the central conflict will help you organize everything in your own head before you start writing the script.

Create a villain/antagonist. Not every story has a villain per se, but an evil antagonist gives your script the sort of conflict drama feeds on.

Pick a script format for your radio drama. Keep separate the writing of dialogue, stage directions, sound effects and narrative. (See the enclosed format acceptable to radio.)

Set the scene. Radio plays can create the scene using a narrator, a monologue, a dialogue, sound effects or a combination of the above. The important thing is to let the audience know where they are at the beginning. Within the first few minutes, they should know who the principal characters are, where they are and what they are doing. Then introduce the event that changes things and sets the action/central conflict going.

Clearly introduce a plot element and place in each scene. The first scene might tell you that the protagonist is on board a ship, for example, and that he is searching for a ship that put out a distress beacon. The second scene might take place in the past describing how the lost ship left port full of high hopes for example. Then jump forward to the present again. By tying each scene to a place, event and character, you can create a vivid world for the listener.

Incorporate sound effects whenever possible. Creaking doors, shrieking alarms and cavernous echoes really make radio more vivid. They help set the scene, raise suspense and hold the attention of the audience. Be careful about over-use however. Too much only confuses the listener.

Don’t set too big a task for yourself in the beginning. Keep the script tight, short and simple.

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