Lucy Gough came into the uni for our last lecture of the course. I can’t believe it’s all over. There are some ‘unofficial’ workshops but as far as organised lectures go, well, that was it. Now I just have to worry about the dissertation… Gulp!
Anyway, Lucy arrived and she is really nice. She gave us a lecture on the dos and don’ts of writing for radio. It was an eye opener and I realise that it is much harder than it looks. I know I probably won’t ever do it unless I have a huge amount of time available. Oddly though a lot of what she said also relates to screenwriting, first being that you need to give the listener a sense of place, but it is really difficult. What do you say? “Oh, I am in a dark haunted mansion and I feel like I am being watched”? Or do you overlay a creaking door with oppressive and menacing music? Lucy said to use an audience’s sense of curiosity. You don’t have to ‘set the scene’ with actual words, you can imply it with sound; the audience will then create the background themselves. You just have to prod them into the right direction. Then jump straight into the action.
She said that radio writing is a combination of intimacy, individuality and invisibility; after all the audience can’t see anything. One of the easiest ways to build a world is to give a reference of something that occurs every day, like traffic, and then change the situation, make something unexpected happen. Radio is not always about dialogue but also sound and rhythm.
Lucy also told us not to be scared of making things happen within a script that requires a sound that is gruesome. She said that she had written a play where someone is decapitated but when she went to the recording studio the sound specialist cut a cabbage in half. The odd thing was that she and her colleagues all found the sound disturbing because of the context.
Just how far can you go with sound? Don’t forget that you can use sound effects, music, and dialogue, and, importantly, silence. Only use sounds that mean something. Just like words every little sound has to further the story or create context. Sound can locate the audience, it gives them a starting point before the imagination takes over and they create the story in their heads. One bit of advice was to keep it simple, you want the audience to understand and not become confused.
I found it very difficult, especially as you have to almost write with sounds, to tell a story without being able to describe something, just to infer it. Incredible, yet I am a huge fan of listening to both radio plays and dramatizations, so I know that it can work. I’m just not sure it is for me.