Turn On, Tune In – Writing Radio Drama

After having dabbled in most forms of creative writing over the years, I decided it was time to overcome my phobia of writing drama. I’ve never attempted it before, mainly because I think I perceive it as ‘difficult’ – with just your dialogue out there, there are fewer words around it padding it out. It feels a very exposed form of writing; if the dialogue doesn’t work, the whole piece falls apart.

So, I challenged myself to writing radio drama. Writing for the theatre would be too big a leap, I thought – all that visual stuff to worry about! But writing drama for radio seemed more accessible. I signed up for this course by The Script Factory, who ran it in this format for the first time today, at the Soho Theatre.

We had two preliminary plays to listen to, the first was ‘We Happened to be Passing’ by David Nobbs. I was interested in this as he is a well-respected writer and the premise sounded amusing (when you say casually to someone ‘oh do drop in if you happen to be passing’, and then they actually do turn up on your doorstep). However, the exposition was disappointing – it felt as though it had been lifted from the mid-1970s, the plot was very contrived. The second play was called ‘Spitfires’, but I didn’t engage with the subject matter enough and abandoned it after half an hour.

The tutor was Cherry Cookson, someone I was previously unfamiliar with but who has been producing and directing radio drama for about thirty years. The structure of the day was quite fluid, there were set topics that were covered (characters, openings, endings, structure and marketing) but due to the high volume of Q&A things often got a little side-tracked. I did learn a lot of useful stuff about what works on radio, and what may not work so well, and Cherry had tons of brilliant excerpts from her own productions which illustrated the points.

There were two things I’d have liked to have covered which were overlooked. Firstly, I’d have liked to have been given some information, even if only a hand-out at least, on how to write scripts. As someone who has only ever written prose or poetry, scripts look fairly alien, especially when you add in all those sound effects, or should I say ‘FX’ (although they did assure us that this information is readily available on the Script Factory website). Secondly, I’d have liked the opportunity to get down to doing some actual writing and to get some feedback on it, but as the tutor said, with a group of 30 students, that was never going to be all that practical.

All in all, the course has given me lots of ideas for stories I might write that are suitable for radio, and the motivation to make more of an effort to listen to and read more radio drama. Now all I need is the time in which to do it all…

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