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09 Nov

Joy Armstrong Reviews the Writing for Radio Talk, 3 Nov 2011

Scene 1

NOTTINGHAM WRITERS STUDIO COMMON ROOM

FX:  PEOPLE MURMERING, A COUGH, PAPERS RUSTLING, CHINKING GLASSES

1. ROBIN:    And now I would like to introduce Catherine Adams from Nottingham Trent University to talk about writing for radio.

And so began the talk from Catherine, a broadcast journalist who now teaches at NTU. The topic—Fiction on the Radio.

Catherine kicked off with getting us to imagine a beach in winter and then describe it—the point being that everyone has a different imagination and this is the basis of the power of radio—that it lets sounds and words create a unique picture, so that the interaction is very intimate and creative. The trick to getting the imagery over is to use short sentences, striking images and to keep things simple—one idea per sentence. It’s a very direct style.

Four progressively complex examples were then played to us to illustrate how different levels of words and sound effects build up differing responses.

So, starting with Richard Dimbleby commentating on the D-Day landings—no sound effects, just the power of the voice, the images described and the tone giving the commentary its authority—we then moved on to Alan Little documenting the life of one man and his huskies out seal hunting. This excerpt demonstrated the use of voice plus sound effects—dogs barking, the delight in the hunter’s voice that he had hit his target.  A tip from Alan: writing for radio is not the same as for TV—the sounds and words must combine to make the picture, whereas in TV pictures complement words.

The third excerpt gave us an extract from the 1938 radio play of War of the Worlds where the presentation of dialogue, sound effects and overall production apparently made such a vivid impact on the population of the Eastern seaboard in the USA that people panicked thinking there was a real alien invasion—or so it was reported in the New York Times. The final extract was from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy where sound effects, words, dialogue, expression and style were combined and delivered to the max.

This led on to a brief discussion about the creation of actuality by the use of fading in and out of scenes to show time passing or a change of place and the use of repetition of characters’ names in dialogue so the audience knows who is who. Repetition is a limitation of radio but is necessary, as is keeping the number of characters low, to avoid confusion.  Another tip is to leave some of the drama to the imagination.

There was a brief discussion about the fact there has only been one successful radio ‘soap’—The Archers. Time for another?

We then moved on to live action, with a reading of an excerpt from Brief Encounters, starring Elaine and Ian, with sound effects by various game participants. Well done the leading actors!! (made for stage those two).

The talk wound down with a brief chat about how to mix and edit (you’re on  your own), writers’ resources (BBC Writers Room), commissioning (the Beeb, but some independent production companies also involved) and commissioning times (twice a year); and finally, rates of pay (via the Society of Authors), which are not brill as radio is low key.

Principle tips from a brief question and answer session: radio can be an easier entry point for script writers; and download Scriptsmart from the BBC, a script formatting programme.

Scene 24

NOTTINGHAM WRITERS STUDIO COMMON ROOM

FX: RUSTLING PAPERS, SOUNDS OF A CHAIR BEING MOVED

1. ROBIN    I’d just like to say big thanks on behalf of NWS to Catherine for a lively and informative talk.  Thank you, Catherine

FX:  GENERAL CLAPPING AND CONVERSATION STARTING UP

The End
Write up by Joy Armstrong, 4 November 2011.

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