Archive for October, 2013

Writing for Radio. It’s like Writing for the Movies.
By John Morrison

Theatre v Radio
I’ve read a couple of scripts lately where the writer has seemed a little confused as to what you can really do with a radio script. Some writers seem to think that because radio is inevitably word or dialogue driven it is therefore closer to theatre than it is to television or movies. At first the reasons for this appear obvious. Radio seems to resemble theatre, after all a stage play, properly produced for radio, loses very little in the translation to the new medium. Radio also loves the spoken word, as does theatre. The monologue or one man show, much loved by theatre, is even better on radio where the single narrating voice is right in the ear of the listener, like someone telling you a story in a bar or at a kitchen table.
Therefore some people might assume that the best way to structure a radio drama is to imitate the structure of a theatre play. For example, in theatre the locations are few with the characters coming and going, passing through a limited number of scenes. The location is fixed but the characters change. We open on a sitting room in act one, move to a bedroom for the second act and return to the sitting room for the third. However, this is most definitely not the case with radio drama.
Movies v Radio
Writers should realise that radio is much closer to movies than it is to theatre in its structure. In radio you can cut, cut, cut to different locations and different times in a manner impossible in the theatre. Although there are no visual clues in radio to tell the listener that the scene has changed we can, with dialogue, sound effects and music suggest the movement to a new scene in a way that the listener will believe. Provided we don’t overload the listener with too many voices or confusing sounds the possibilities are virtually endless in moving the action from scene to scene.
Of course some great radio plays have been set in one location and in continuous time just like a theatre play, (the movies do that also on occasion as in The Twelve Angry Men). However we should never, as radio writers, feel at all limited by the medium. The capacity for radio to conjure up new and surprising worlds is virtually endless as is radio’s ability to move us rapidly from place to place or from time to time.
Think Visually
So when you’re writing your play, try to visualise it as a movie and not a theatre play as you write. See the action unfold on a screen first and only afterwards look at how you can work the play within the radio framework and its lack of visuals. Rely on the listener to conjure up in his mind’s eye the world you are creating. I think this will generally add more drama and interest to your work. Never forget the old maxim; the only difference between radio and the movies is that radio is far more visual.


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