Week 6 – 8 (by Dan Horrigan)

The MA Dramatic Writing Group has been going into Radio.

Here are some highlights of our fruitful investigation:

In the opening minute of a Radio piece you should look to establish the important people we will be travelling with. There should be a clear idea that hooks people into the story, and you should engage the audience with a dramatically powerful opening. This held true to the examples we researched – Radio apparently has the fastest turn off rate (in a theatre if you are eating your hands with frustration you can run away at the interval, in a cinema you can console yourself with nachos and coca cola) – so hook em in! You really want to put what is unique about your piece out there in the opening minute. The idea needs to generate intrigue and excitement, draw us in, arouse our interest. Radio is a bit like film – the audience is painting pictures in its mind – in your opening you have the chance to smash naturalism and take us on a real romp.

We spent some time thinking about what we would find exhilarating in a Radio piece (for example I have a long held desire to direct a stage play where it really rains on stage) – you can draw up a list of things that would really excite you about the possibilities of Radio and deftly thread them into your story (a piece I am working on has the blood of a victim turn into a bird and narrate the story leading up to the incident). We also spent some time thinking about what we want to write about in Radio and why – we chose one and spent some time elaborating on the theme (mine was housing so the setting is a block of flats – each level has a different feel and sound is crucial) we then thought about a character and what would be the most exciting thing that could happen to that character at the top of the play (mine was a woman being bounced out of her home in London and began with bailiffs knocking on the door).

Alongside out own ideas we were checking in on the BBC writers room to read scripts in their library and listen to shows. This was to help us establish our own ideas – taking a character and deciding what they wanted. We were specific about different tools for telling the story through Radio – transitions (again sound is crucial here) – numbers of characters in scenes (less is better for differentiation and following the story) – sounds, music, and themes associated with characters and the interplay of sound with the story telling. We listened to Moving Music the story of Philip Glass and Steve Reich’s friendship – which had a wonderfully playful opening between two clearly differentiated voices in counterpoint to the music that was playing. It was a great example of music moving the story forward and taking us on a journey.

Looking forward to creating our own characters we thought about things that would make them memorable, listing those things. We thought about why we would care about them – again making a list of things that would hook an audience into them (alright you don’t have to care necessarily but you certainly should have an interest in what happens to them!) and we though of ways to keep them fascinating and not boring! We thought about what makes them tick as characters, who they talk to and what they know, how we understand their viewpoint – the importance of their inner story and what they are feeling. We decided that the story would need rules, that it was best to establish these (conventions) and stick to them. We spent time thinking of exciting or impossible goals. We experimented with an inner and outer voice for our characters (a strength of Radio) – we thought about where we position the listener in relation to the main characters goals – share the journey? Root for them? Hope they fail? Wonder how they’ll ever get there? We considered the rule that every scene should have an effect on the main characters journey. We put this alongside Sue Roberts exercises on character – especially useful was formulating answers in the voice of the character. We spent a lot of time getting inside our characters and fleshing them out – and then turned towards creating a pitch.

Taking something unique to us we had developed a pitch for a Radio play – we had an opening scene and we shared pitches. Our pitch included details of: the inciting incident, pursual of goal, complication, adaption to complication, and final battle. We then turned our pitch into a treatment with a log line, story, and USP.

We then spent time thinking about the importance of sound in Radio – we wrote a scene where the dramatic action is propelled by sound. We watched videos of sound engineers and actors at work using sound in the performance. This was for me a very liberating exercise that helped me focus on storytelling moving forward through action and only what was really really essential to the story.

To round off we spent time going through the advice the BBC has for its writers in respect to writing for Radio, from the craft of writing through to the process of pitching. By this point we had created a series of scene outlines for our radio piece 5-7 scenes for a 15 minute piece or 15-20 scenes for a 45 minute piece. We had amassed rather a lot of information and even more material – and we had something we could pitch. Not bad going.

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