A guide to writing radio drama
by Kate McAll
Getting Started: Don’t be afraid of the blank page – do a wild draft and see where it takes you. Once you’ve got it down on paper you should be able to see if you need to focus in on something.
Openings: Don’t put down the history, the set-up, why the characters are there – hit the ground running. With only a few minutes to tell your story there’s no time to waste. Everything must earn its keep. It may be a fantastic bit of prose or a wonderful image but if it’s not relevant to the story and the characters, it shouldn’t be there. Cut the preamble and emotionally tie people down so they can’t reach that off switch. Simple often works.
Notes for writing dialogue
1) This is not literary writing. It is drama, and drama is essentially about conflict. Characters must not discuss. Avoid having them ask each other to explain things.
2) Something must happen. Each scene needs to move the story forward. Don’t waste time – e.g. knock knock, yes, it’s me, oh, you, come in etc.
3) Use the medium. Remember that a small amount of information goes a long way, and that listeners will be more interested the less you tell them. Pare down rather than over-write.
4) Remember you can direct the scene with stage directions. The emotional path of the scene is as important as the words spoken. You can tell the actors how you want them to deliver it.
5) Try to give the two characters different speech patterns, attitudes, emotional states, speeds of delivery. Listen to how real people talk.
6) Exposition must always be disguised. E.g. “You’ve got a very big office.” (dull statement). “Your office is twice the size of mine!” (gives emotion). Every scene will have a key piece of information to impart – but maybe it only gets blurted out at the end.
7) Can you answer the following questions:
What does this character know?
What doesn’t he/she know?
What does he/she want?
What is his/her current attitude to everyone else in the scene?
8) Make your location relevant. Physical action adds interest to a scene – a romantic tryst in a tight space, escaping by climbing out of a window, the effort of climbing a mountain, or just lying in bed. Having a cup of tea, however, is generally timewasting and dull. If there’s no reason to have a background sound, keep it plain.
9) Make it as real as possible. Natural speech is messy. Avoid long speeches – especially when there’s no response from the other person. The art of interrupting.
10) Allow for the non verbal – silence, sighs, etc.
11) Always test your dialogue by reading it aloud.