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Helena Sheridan’s workshop – writing for radio

Radio is better than TV – the pictures are so much clearer.

As always, a workshop led by Helena Sheridan is full of tips-of-the-trade, hands-on practical writing and most of all, plenty of laughs. For a one-off radio drama scripting special, Helena Sheridan shared with us the effectiveness of using sound effects and the freedom to switch locations. We learned how to allow the listener’s imagination to ‘see’ the story.
Using a whistling wind sound effect, the radio playwright can suggest a mountain top location; using time transitions can create a context for the character’s behaviour; telephone conversations can subtly help to reveal essential details about the action if a character is alone.
Helena’s first challenge for Club members was to study the opening of one of her radio play. Two questions – How much information about setting and character could we discover? How was this conveyed in the drama? In ten minutes, we’d found out at least 15 key points from tone/volume of voice; pauses; dialogue; sound effects, etc.
Helena pointed out the importance of realistic dialogue which must be immediately understood; with a radio drama, the listener has no easy way of ‘going back’ to check what they’ve heard. Characters must not tell other characters what they already know
Our second challenge, to be tackled in small group discussion, was to choose one of Helena’s titles to prompt plot ideas for our own radio plays.
Two groups worked with The Tattoo, creating appropriate sound effects and characters with hidden motives and plenty of attitude.
One intensely vivid scene for radio was created using the title Let Go and Live, with three characters on a windswept summit, faced with a moral decision. Other groups came up with novel ideas using the titles: The Last Seat, The Cooking Lesson and Visit from a Stranger.
Helena certainly switched us on to writing for radio.

Note If you look on bbc.co.uk/writersroom you’ll find opportunities for writing such as this one :
BBC Writersroom’s regular window for unsolicited scripts is open between 10am on 14th March and 5pm on 4th April 2016 for Comedy scripts (TV, film, radio, stage or online).
Rhona Anderson

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