Tuesday, 10 May 2011

It's Only Words, and Words are All I Have

Description. You take it for granted in books and magazines. It’s unnecessary in films and TV, where the mise-en-scene is a given and you can see the surroundings of the story. We use it to instil emotion in the audience and to keep their increasingly short attention. As a writer, you’ll probably get used to using visuals to tell- or rather show- your story. Strong images grab attention.

But what if you’re working with the medium of radio? What if you have no visuals- only dialogue? And what if- just to make things more of a challenge- there were no sound cues to aid the narrative? Just two voices weaving a tale? How easy is it to tell a story?

Here’s how to find out:

Sit with at the table with a group of other writers and a sheet of paper each.

Write a type of person on the sheet. Maybe an occupation.

Fold the sheet back below the text so nobody can see what you've written.

Pass it to the right/ left.

Write another type of person. Fold it back, pass it on.

Next, write a place- a setting for a story- and an object that you would likely find in this place.

Fold it back, pass it on.

Unfold the sheet.

You now have two people in a place with an object. You have ten minutes to write an audio play- purely with dialogue and no sound effects. Think of a radio play but without the censorship restrictions. In the play, don’t tell the audience what the setting is or what the object is, but hint towards both of these. We will divulge the characters once the ten minutes is up. Then, the other group members can guess as to what the settings and objects are after each person reads out their play.

My two characters were a landscape gardener and a cleaner. Can you guess my setting and object?

Yeah, I sort of inherited it.

It’s impressive, isn’t it mate!

It is. It’s been here about 400 years, in one shape or another.

I can make it look much better but I’m not, like a decorator or anything.

No, I know. But it’d really help.

It’d take a few hours- shit! Get it off me!

Hold still, the hatch is still open. Don’t! Come here!

Oh Jesus!

Look, I’ve scrunched it up! There was nothing in it. Not even little ones.


I wouldn’t have thought you’d have been, like, an arachnophobe or anything, given your job.

I know, mate. Imagine every day like this. I was louder than those cows out in the yard. Ridiculous.

You wanna bring a hoover up here, then you can just suck them straight up and get rid of them.

Beep Beep. Time’s up. So. Did you guess where the setting was? How about the object?

I had an attic in a 17th century farmhouse, and a cobweb.

Were you close? I came up with the idea for this exercise, but then found it ridiculously hard to pull off. That’s why it’s so short. My group members vaguely got the farm reference and came close with “a spider” as the object.

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