So the readers made a move from comedy to radio drama. ( there’s only so much hilarity you can take in one big chunk.) And we were lucky again (twice in a week, spooky) to have a hugely experienced and knowledgeable BBC colleague – radio drama producer David Hunter - drop by and talk to the readers about how they look at radio scripts and writers for radio. We discussed some very useful headline thoughts:
• Radio scripts should feel easy to read – they should flow, have rhythm, not be too dense or text-heavy – if you’re struggling to read a script then an audience will almost certainly struggle to listen to it
• Producers enjoy seeing a true diversity of worlds, language (as in idiom), tone, style and stories that are representing the whole of the UK as we know it rather than just a little bit
• Stories need to have a contemporaneity about them – even if they are not a contemporary setting, what is it that’s contemporary about the reason for telling the story now, for an audience now? (It’s also very very hard to make ‘period’ pieces come to true engaging, convincing life…)
• Stories need a fresh perspective and you want them to feel in some way ‘adventurous’ – to have a story to tell, to be willing to challenge form (without trying to be clever and ‘innovative’ just for the sake of it)
• Scripts should try to avoid having too many characters – because radio is not the best medium for a multiplicity of voices – and they certainly wouldn’t say no to more strong female protagonists
• Scripts often start with lots of talking, but stories should grab the reader/listener straight away and surprise us straight away – it’s all too easy to turn off/turn over/tune out – so think about how to use sound to hook the attention
• It’s important for the audience/reader to see in the opening minutes/pages why you are passionate about telling this story
• Just because it’s drama, doesn’t mean it can’t be funny, or told with a lightness of touch – the Radio 4 Afternoon Play is a great place for single comedy-dramas, and/or stories that seek to make the audience laugh as well as move them
• Beware overwriting – less is usually more, don’t make the words do all the work, remember that sound/acoustic are your tools/palette
• And: beware farming/agricultural in the Afternoon Play (as it follows The Archers); be careful with what feel like reverent biographies (they can be very dull); be wary of fast-upcoming plays marking memorial/anniversary dates (they will almost certainly already have commissioned an established writer to cover it – so, for example, they already have some huge World War I commissions in the pipeline )

And what did the readers notice when they ploughed into the scripts?
• A large number of plays in which characters sit around chatting a lot (usually over cups of tea) but where nothing really seems to be happening
• Plays (like the above) that get off to a slow start and don’t grab or hook straight away with the story/drama
• Plays with very heavy narration, or with static monologues which relate what has happened rather than exist in a dramatic moment/present
• Plays with little enough in the way of story, narrative and plot
• Plays which didn’t have a strong enough sense of clarity - or clarity of story purpose
• Plays with visual (rather than audio) cues that simply could not work for a radio audience
• Historical stories that don’t seem to have a contemporary imperative/perspective

So, in fact, more or less the converse of what a producer is probably looking for. And as such, a complex set of problems.

And what about the much smaller proportion of ones that are in fact progressing past the first sift? Unanimously, it was where the readers didn’t quite know what was going to happen, but where there was a strong sense of them going somewhere, and where they really wanted to read on to find out where that was. So in a way, there’s something very simple about the urge to say ‘yes’ to a script at this stage.

It’s a tricky thing, this writing business.

Read Paul's blog on the latest script room comedy submissions here.

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments.

  • Comment number 32. Posted by PaulMcDermott

    on 15 Jul 2013 16:45

    I'm a recent return to the Writersroom, and have a couple of questions - the site has changed sooooo much since I last visited, it's hard to recognise!
    1) Are you currently closed to ALL submissions?
    If so, when are you likely to re-open?
    2) On the 'blog' page you state that submissions should feel "Contemporary"
    What if this clashes with #1 [above] i.e. deals with an issue which is topical, but at a time when you are closed to submissions?
    In case you haven't guessed, this is the position in which I find myself!
    Advice would be appreciated regarding submission of a play (intended for Radio) at first opportunity.

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 32: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 32: 0
    Loading…
  • Comment number 31. Posted by Ros

    on 28 Jun 2013 15:46

    Note to Jane Saunte
    I am so sorry Jane. I seem to have rated your comment negatively. I didnt mean to do this. I was just passing my cursor over the writing and something happened. I feel very much as you do and it is reassuring to hear what you have to say. I have just joined the blog so I have not yet become efficient.
    Best wishes
    Ros

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 31: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 31: 0
    Loading…
  • Comment number 30. Posted by Jane Saunte

    on 3 Jun 2013 14:06

    Very interesting discussion.

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 30: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 30: 0
    Loading…
  • Comment number 29. Posted by Paul Ashton

    on 28 May 2013 05:59

    Btw - if the commissioner isn't overwhelmed by a particular produced play or writer's work, then I can imagine them not being thrilled about recommissioning them to do more - so this notion of a gang of rubbish writers being endlessly recommissioned is an understandable anxiety but it's just not true. Of course there are some not so great dramas - but there are many great ones too. And there are writers who are new to radio being produced all the time. If that's not you, then I'm sorry - but that doesn't mean it isn't happening.

  • Comment number 28. Posted by Paul Ashton

    on 28 May 2013 05:49

    @ LaGrange - the writers prize recently did precisely what you suggested - and two writers previously unknown to the BBC are having their plays produced. But the huge volume of single original plays being produced means it's simply not feasible for logistical reasons to run a system that greenlights finished plays - it would cost a LOT more in unused commissions, admin, staffing etc etc. The BBC is trying to slim down on all those things to make better use of the licence fee. Also, if a particular play isn't great it isn't necessarily solely the writer's fault - maybe it wasn't developed/script editied as well as it might, maybe it wasn't cast properly, maybe it just wasn't made as well as it could have been. You only usually get 3 days in studio for a 45 min drama - I don't know any other dramatic medium that's as pressured time-wise. It's hard to make good dramas. Radically overhauling the system won't take that away.

  • Comment number 27. Posted by LaGrange

    on 27 May 2013 22:59

    "Submitting work to the Writersroom and being successful within WR does not mean that the work you submitted will be produced or commissioned."

    Sorry, I'm confused. I thought 'being successful within WR' entailed getting commissioned. How else is one 'successful within WR' ?

    "Are you a writer?"
    Since 1982. Eight books in five languages, one TV series, no radio so far. But I think I've written enough here, so will say no more. I hope others consider my points valid, or at least thought provoking. I consider the entire manner in which the BBC commissions radio drama to be in need of a radical shake-up, since it's currently straightforward for those on Radio 4's 'established talent' list to get work produced irrespective of the quality of their work, and very difficult for outsiders to break in irrespective of their talent.

    Good luck with your work.

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 27: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 27: 0
    Loading…
  • Comment number 26. Posted by Monumental

    on 27 May 2013 22:10

    @LaGrange - No, the general discussion is not about how writing gets commissioned. That's your angle.

    Submitting work to the Writersroom and being successful within WR does not mean that the work you submitted will be produced or commissioned.

    Are you a writer?

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 26: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 26: 0
    Loading…
  • Comment number 25. Posted by LaGrange

    on 27 May 2013 21:41

    @FadeIn. Isn't the discussion about how writing gets commissioned ? Isn't that one of the functions of the Writersroom and this blog ?

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 25: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 25: 0
    Loading…
  • Comment number 24. Posted by Monumental

    on 27 May 2013 20:44

    It is curious, that people use this blog aimed at writers, to complain about the BBC and its output.

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 24: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 24: 0
    Loading…
  • Comment number 23. Posted by LaGrange

    on 27 May 2013 11:39

    @ Paul Ashton. I thought as much. It’s not difficult to tell when an idea that sounded great in synopsis disintegrated when the playwright came to write the actual play.

    Here’s a thought: why not commission all radio drama from finished work only ? The author’s name should be omitted from the play for the readers so there can be no accusations of cronyism, etc. Independent productions should go through the same rigour as Writersroom submissions. The entire commissioning process should be transparent. Then we’d really have the ‘diversity’ you speak of.

    This would of course mean more work and greater cost, but if the BBC can afford to throw away £100million on duff tech it can afford a dozen more readers.

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 23: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 23: 0
    Loading…
More comments

More Posts

Previous

Next