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24 September 2014

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Top tips from the writing professionals.

Writing - top tips

We asked a bunch of top writers, producers and editors in TV and radio for their writing tips. Here's the advice the experts gave us about writing for screen and sound:



 
Rob Shearman, radio writer, and Doctor Who scriptwriter

Listen to the way you talk for a while - really concentrate on it, and see if you can spot ways in which the words you choose are different from those around you. We all fall into little habits of favourite sayings, and being aware of that when you write dialogue for your own characters will mean that they sound subtly different from each other.

"Two people rarely sound the same as each other - and under certain circumstances, they don't even sound like themselves either!"
Now have a listen to how you change the way you speak when you're with your friends to how you speak when you're with your parents, or your favourite auntie! Whenever we talk we're always changing the sort of impression we want to give people - and that's going to be true for your characters too.

Two people rarely sound the same as each other - and under certain circumstances, they don't even sound like themselves either! Good drama recognises that each character has their own voice - and the fun in writing it is finding out what that voice is.

Jo Toye, scriptwriter on The Archers

Never write a line which you can't say out loud. Always read your scripts out and time them. Nothing is more soul-destroying than seeing your peerless lines cut for time - far better you trim them yourself. There's no script that can't be cut and you have to learn to be really hard on all your lines.

Understatement and pauses - pauses are the most effective radio device - are far more dramatic than over-writing.
Nev Fountain, writer on Dead Ringers

Get someone to hold your script about ten feet away from you, and leaf through it. Look at the shape of the dialogue. The cues should all be different shapes and sizes, like normal dialogue. If all you can see are a huge blocks of words, chances are your characters are being too wordy. If everyone is speaking in paragraphs the script will most likely end up leaden and dull.

"If it's Mickey's sole purpose in a scene to impart important information on page five, don't have him sitting there like a lemon doing nothing on pages one through four."
Keep a scene moving. Don't have all the characters static for a whole scene. If it's Mickey's sole purpose in a scene to impart important information on page five, have him enter on page five and say it. Don't have him sitting there like a lemon doing nothing on pages one through four.

Edit all the time - while you're writing and after you're writing. If a four page scene ends up doing its job in three pages, then it's a victory.

Vanessa Whitburn, editor of The Archers

Each scene should advance the plot or add information in some way.

Vary the length and pace of each scene so your script has variety.

Keep dialogue sharp and in character. When writing for the screen, remember not all information is carried in the dialogue.

Dawn Ellis, radio light entertainment producer (Radio Shuttleworth, Rigor Mortis, A Certain Age)

Characters are all - when reading through your script cover up the character names. If a reader can tell which character is speaking from the way they talk and the nuances they have, then you've cracked it. If you can't tell one from another unless you can read the name then you're characters aren't individual and the plot won't work (in dramatic or comedy terms).
"For audio - think big! Nothing's impossible to achieve in terms of setting."


Show, don't tell. So for radio, don't write things like "I'm going to open the door now" - have the action and dialogue continue around it.

For radio - think big! Nothing's impossible to achieve in terms of setting - but don't write dramatic effects just for the sake of it - they have to match the plot.

Helen Raynor, script editor on Doctor Who

Always think what it is you want your audience to feel.

"Are you trying to make the audience laugh, or shock them?"
Are you trying to make them laugh, or shock them? Should they be rooting for a character, or praying for their downfall?

And never underestimate your audience! Imagine they're your Best Friend; they're going to love the story you tell them, but they won't let you get away with being dull or waffly for ONE second...

Manda Levin, script executive, Drama Serials (script editor on Charles II, Cutting it, producer on A Thing Called Love)

What do you feel passionate about and inspired by? If you feel excited by an idea, the chances are your audience will.

"Shakespeare focused on universal themes that are as relevant today as they were all those years ago."
Shakespeare focused on universal themes that are as relevant today as they were all those years ago - power, love, loyalty, family, revenge, jealousy, virtue.

The holy grail of drama is to create characters that are emotionally engaging to an audience. If we're interested in a character because they are funny, charismatic, intriguing, smart, witty, challenging or dangerous then we're going to care what happens to them.

David Nicholls, writer of the BBC adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing

Be brave. It's alright to make mistakes. In fact, you must make mistakes - it's the only way to get better.

Shakespeare's plays, themes and characters

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