Radio Shorts – tips for writers

Some tips if you’re new to writing radio plays

Radio gives you the chance to be anywhere without needing to build a stage set. People often think a radio play is restricted in where it can be set because of the lack of visuals, whereas it’s actually the opposite. Audio plays can be as big and bold as your imagination, so why limit yourself to what you could do on a stage when constraints of staging, set and scene changes need not apply.

Think about sounds. Good radio plays are not just great dialogue. In the absence of visuals, it’s the sounds that create the setting, so be imaginative and remember that sounds can be more than ‘door creaks’ and ‘there is a knock’. Sound can help you set a scene or announce a character’s arrival (but don’t get too carried away!).

As well as location, time also isn’t a problem. You can switch between past, present and future, have flashbacks and fast forward, but don’t do it too often – particularly in 5 to 10 minute plays – as you can get a bit too clever and confuse the listeners. Remember that everything has to be conveyed either by sound or by narration. If you take an audience to too many places that they can’t see, they may forget where they are. And if you don’t mark the change of setting with sounds or dialogue the audience won’t know that they’ve moved and may not know where they are to begin with.

Have a few voices, but not too many. Remember that people can’t see the actors so if they’re not speaking it’s easy to forget they’re there. Don’t make the listener have to think too long about who the character is if they reappear in the play.

A monologue may not always be a good idea. Even if a person isn’t moving, a good monologue on stage or film always has a visual element which means the character holds our attention. A monologue on radio has to work so much harder to keep us listening right till the end. It can be done, but…

All scripts benefit from reading out loud by the writer or better still with other readers too. Listen to what it sounds like. Really listen. Because it will demonstrate where you need to cut, expand on a point, or where the meaning isn’t quite clear. Writing is rewriting, and that’s just as true for a very short play.

And finally, our advice to anyone thinking of writing a radio play is to listen to some of them first. You shouldn’t write a book if you’ve never read one, and the same applies to radio plays – they are not stage plays without pictures, they are a genre in themselves.

For more advice and tips on how to write a radio play, click here