I wrote for two different shows on RTE Radio One, here in Ireland. One was ‘Sunday Miscellany’ which was a kind of aural kaleidoscope of true stories coming from a variety of different writers. The other one was Fiction Fifteen, a children’s story series.
You may not realise this but radio is a surprisingly intimate medium. Many listeners are alone listening whether they are home or in their car. As a writer you are speaking directly to them and this is why you get so many irate people ringing up phone in programs, they are listening alone and they feel as though the ‘chat’ is aimed at them personally.
Writing for radio forces you to place a lot of emphasis on description. Description is really important in radio stories as this is what allows your listeners to ‘see’ your stories. You are painting the scenes for them with words.
If you listen to radio interviewers you will hear them prompting their subjects for more and more description. You will notice them frequently asking questions like this:
“Tell me exactly what you saw when you arrive at the scene. Who was there? What were they doing?”
This paints the picture for listeners and helps keep them engaged. In radio, listeners do some of the work – in the form of visualization but you can’t expect them to do all the work – it’s very easy for them to switch off.
Dialogue brings a radio story to life and again allows your listener’s to ‘see’ your characters by giving them an idea of the character’s age, gender, accent, social class etc. It’s pretty much the only option you have unless you write something polluted with exposition like this:
“Hi Mary, I really like your long red hair and it goes well with your blue eyes and the matching coat looks great too”
“Thanks, John, you’re looking good, your shoulders are quite broad aren’t they? Never noticed that before and that’s a great brown shirt that goes with your brown eyes and hair. Aren’t you forty next birthday?”
In which case you have nothing more than pages of clunky dialogue and no more work in radio – unless your Mother owns the station!
Another really important factor in writing radio stories is the length. You have to very careful to write the exact length you are asked for. The best way is to read it aloud and time it. If you are over time you must be ruthless and start cutting. If you are short you must write more. Stories that are too short for the slot will not be purchased by your broadcaster. In other words you won’t be paid – understand that there cannot be ‘dead air’ in radio – this is a disaster.
You simply cannot go over the time limit for your radio story either or it just won’t fit into the available slot. Either your story will be cut, or you will! Remember that there are a lot of writers out there who can fit their stories to the slot, so the reality is it will probably be you that’s cut!
Best of luck with your writing.
P.S. To get your stories flowing why not try some of these creative writing exercises now!