Archive for January, 2013

Script Editing and the Radio Writer.

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By John Morrison
Radio Opportunities
The BBC, easily the world’s most important producer and broadcaster of radio drama, receives thousands of spec radio plays every year. Of course there are loads of great opportunities across the range of BBC stations, particularly at Radio4. The Afternoon Play provides most opportunities for the new writer to break in to radio with over two hundred productions per year. There is also the Saturday Play, the Fifteen Minute Drama, The Archers and countless comedy shows. This is a vast amount of time to fill. Yet the supply still far outweighs the demand. Most of those thousands of hopeful plays, written by eager writers will not, alas, be produced.

Unfortunately most of these writers don’t give themselves a good enough chance of being produced. They submit their plays after only showing them to their mates or a school teacher or an actor they know or somebody who once went to school with Sam Mendes.

The First Ten pages
The BBC admits that it only reads the first ten minutes of plays and screenplays submitted to them. If they’re not grabbed by then they don’t read on. Only if they are hooked do they read the complete play. What chance has the new writer who hasn’t gone through a rigorous process of analysis and re-writing have of getting his bright new play read, let alone produced?

We are all far too close to our own work to properly see what we have on the page or understand what works and what does not. I have worked on radio and have had plays produced. I also write movie and television screenplays but I wouldn’t dream of submitting my work to a producer or broadcaster before I have it looked at and analysed by a script editor that I know and trust. Every time I’ve had my work analysed I’ve had fresh new insights into what works and what doesn’t and what can make it better. I don’t mean sometimes, I mean every time.

Give Yourself the Best Chance
Why would a writer not want to give himself the best chance of being produced by missing out this key element in the chain that starts with a blank page and ends up with a broadcast? We all need to be aware of this simple fact. Readers never say to themselves, “Oh yes I see what he’s getting at, I’ll just imagine the scenes that should have been there and not the one’s I’m reading”. Never.

You might think that of course I would say that. I’m offering a script editing service. Yes I am, but only because I have read so many plays that could have been much, much better if the writer had just consulted a good editor.

Somebody once said ‘there are fewer good readers than good writers’. I certainly wouldn’t go that far but a good reader can give your script that something extra that lifts it out of the ordinary and helps get it made. Isn’t that what we all want?


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Radio Drama Check list
By John Morrison
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How to re-read your own work.

After you’ve finished writing your radio script put it away for at least two weeks then dig it out and read again. If you still think it’s great and needs no changes I’d be surprised but if you are unsure about what’s working and what isn’t (which you will be) use this check list to make sure your radio play is really as good as you’d like it to be. To be a real writer you must be ruthless in the checking. Try the John Morrison method.

Did you believe in them? If you’ve any doubts at all get back to work.
Is the speech pattern of each character (i) individual, (ii) true, (iii) consistent?
Do we know enough about everybody important to understand them fully? Are they written at sufficient depth?
Are their motivations clear? They must know what they want and so must the listener.
Do they develop or do they end the piece the same actual people as when it began? Your characters must change or to be more accurate they must grow and be different at the end. is is crucial to story telling.
Do they have a life of their own or are they puppets manipulated by the writer for his own purposes? Wtch out for giving characters opinions or dialogue that comes from you own opinions and not your characters. This is a common error we all make.

Is there any? I mean that. There can be no drama without conflict so make sure it’s there.
Is the conflict something vague in the background. Someone struggling alone with their relationship with God for example would somehow need to be personalised.
Is anything of importance to the characters at stake? The ‘what’s at steak’ doesn’t need to be earth shattering for the listener but it needs to be that to your protagonist.

Do people do things?
Does anything happen?
Does anybody make anything happen? (Or is it all a business of people chattering about things, or a mere portrait of an individual or a group?)
Does the play mark time while the characters unburden themselves?
Do people actually get to grips with things or is it all shadow boxing?

Is the story a mere succession of events (e.g. ‘This happened and then this happened and then…)?
Is it full of cause and effect? Can you say ‘therefore this happened’ or ‘despite that this happened’ between scenes?

Is there sufficient variety of pace?
Are the climaxes right? Do they appear at the right time?
Does the plot develop at the right speed?
Does the end work? What we look for is a surprise ending which still manages to appear inevitable.
Are the audience’s expectations satisfied?

Is the theme implicit or explicit?
Is it clear what the piece is actually about?
Do the characters know?
Should they know?
Is it the right length for what you want to say?
Is the theme clearly illustrated or brought out by the plot?
Are you bringing your own individual point of view to the piece? This is very important. Sniff out any moments where you are trotting out a cliche or parroting someone else. This, more than anything could save your play.

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The BBC’s own solid good advice on writing your play, getting it read and where Radio Drama can be found. The BBC is the world’s greatest producer of radio drama and this site is a must for all aspiring radio dramatists. Keep this on your favourites.


Tim Cook’s excellent site. He’s opinionated and controversial but dishes out some good sense.


This is good practical nitty-gritty stuff from the BBC back in 1981. It’s still relevant and a lot more useful than much of the stuff posted recently.


This is a brilliant fun site with a lot of wise thoughts and great clips from produced plays to illustrate the points made. A must hear.


This is a good interesting blog from a working writer struggling to write his first radio play. Well worth checking out.

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