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Scripting Audio Drama

In our last lesson we worked on preparing and presenting a radio play live before an audience. In particular we looked at the skills of voice acting, preparation of sound effects and musical cues, and the actual performance of the play.

This lesson takes approximately x hours to complete.

There are no pre-requisites for completing this lesson.

You will need a group of short summaries of well-known fairy-tales, fables, and myths.

At the end of this lesson you will be able to…

·        Adapt a story (familiar fairytale, fable, or myth) into a 3 act radio script

·        Develop each scene around its central conflict to give the story interest and pace.

·        Format your script to include directions regarding casting, narration, dialog, scene transitions, sound effects, and music.

  • Introduction to speech (in particular narration)
    • Avoiding long narrations
      • Proxy listener
      • Split narration
    • First person narration
      • Stream of consciousness
      • Types of third person narration
    • The narrator in the script
  • Introduction to speech (in particular dialog)
    • The vanishing character
      • The vanishing character utilised for dramatic purposes
      • The vanishing character utilised for comedy
      • Summary on the vanishing character
    • The number of characters
    • Dialog positions
    • Script length
    • Choice of words
    • Choice of names
    • Dialog Directions
    • Dialog Punctuation
    • An Experiment in radio dialog
  • Routine Technique
    • The opening
      • The first narration
        • Multi-voiced introductions
        • semi-dramatised introductions
      • The scene setting moment
        • Atmospheric dialog
        • Overlapping of narration and scene
        • Keeping the setting alive
        • Dramatic Scene Structure
    • Scene shifting
      • The pause
        • Advantages
        • Disadvantages
      • Narration
        • Advantages
        • Disadvantages
      • Sound Effect Transitions
        • Advantages
        • Disadvantages
      • Musical Transitions
        • Advantages
        • Disadvantages
      • Combination Transitions
        • Advantages
        • Disadvantages
      • A note on consistency in transitions
      • Conventional symbols
      • Dialogue on the move (simulating movement on radio)
        • Fade out Fade in
        • The Moving Mic
    • The Radio Climax
    • Closing a radio drama (the radio close)
      • Narration in closing
      • Music in closing

Act
One of the main divisions of a dramatic work.
Action (New Goal)
A plan to be implemented in pursuit of a modified goal that usually leads to a new scene.
Antagonist
The character, characters, or even environment that sets itself in opposition to the characters.
Cast
The characters to be represented in a dramatic work and the actors who will play them.
Climax
The high point of tension in a story, the place where the final confrontation happens.
Close
The ending to a radio play.
Comedy
Programs dedicate to exploring humor (often in the form of the sketch, joke, or situation comedy).
Conflict
The pitting of one persons goals against another that creates interest and tension within a scene.
Denouement
The wrap up to a story, wherein we get to see the characters enjoying the results of their adventure before the story ends.
Dialog
Conversation (internal or external) intended to carry a play forwards.
Dilemma
In dramatic terms this is the character’s reasoned self talk and evaluation of the available options in response to an event.
Direction
Instructions concerning the timing and delivery of dialog, sound effects, music etc.
Disaster
Any event which frustrates a character’s attempt to achieve a goal.
Drama
Tension, usually between characters, or between characters and their surroundings, that creates desire in the listener to “find out what happens”.
Emotional reaction
The emotional reaction follows the physical reaction to an event. A person might jump with fright and then register the emotion of fear.
Event
An event is anything that happens in a story to provoke a response from the characters.
Fade in
An effect whereby sound or music starts softly and then gradually increase its volume.
Fade out
An effect whereby sound or music starts at normal volume and then gradually decreases its volume.
First narration
The first use of the narrator in a radio play, usually to introduce the play itself.
First person perspective
The story narrated from the protagonists viewpoint (using “I” as in “I walked into the bar and had to duck as a bottle crashed into the wall beside my head”).
Goal
Anything a character may be said to want enough to take action to obtain.
Inciting incident
The event which introduces change, and requires the protagonist to embark upon the story.
Involuntary reaction
An involuntary reaction is the reflex physical response that occurs when someone encounters an event (for example jumping in fright).
Motivation Reaction Unit
A term that describes the psychological relationship in time between a stimulus, the physical reflexive response to it, the emotional sequel to the reflex, and then the cognitive volitional response that follows.
Narration
Verbal description provided for the audience (usually to bring the audience up to date on past episodes, set a scene, or introduce or conclude a play).
Obstacle
Anything that prevents a character from obtaining a goal.
Opening
The way a play begins.
Point of no return
The point in the plot where the protagonist’s bridges are burned behind them and they must either go forward or fail.
Protagonist
The individual who the story is about.
Proxy Listener
A character who’s purpose is to speak for and on behalf of the listener, asking the questions the listener might wish to ask etc.
Reaction
The reflexive physical, emotional, and cognitive response to an event.
Resistance
The things which characters do to resist the changes brought into their lives by the events of the plot.
Reversal
The moment when everything goes wrong, the characters appear doomed, and all is lost.
Rising tension
The ratcheting up of the suspense and tension as the obstacles placed before the main characters grow increasingly more difficult in the lead up to the reversal.
Scene setting
Establishing a scene through description, dialog, or action.
Script
The manuscript or one of various copies of the written text of a play, motion picture, or radio or television broadcast.
Second person perspective
The story narrated from the listener’s viewpoint (using “You” as in “You walk into the bar and have to duck as a bottle crashes into the wall beside your head”).
Sound FX
Ambient sounds intended to evoke the environment in which the characters are acting.
Sting
Musical or sound based punctuation (dramatic chords, etc.) that are used to help evoke an emotional response (laughter, fear, shock etc.).
Stream of consciousness
The continuous flow of ideas, thoughts, and feelings forming the content of an individual’s consciousness
Third person perspective
The story narrated from an outsider’s viewpoint (using “He” or “She” as in “He walked into the bar and had to duck as a bottle crashed into the wall beside his head”).
Third person limited perspective
The story narrated from an outsider’s viewpoint but limited to one character’s point of view (eg. “Jack walked into the bar and had to duck as a bottle crashed into the wall beside his head. He couldn’t tell where the missile had come from.”
Third person omniscient perspective
The story narrated from an outsider’s viewpoint without being limited to any one character’s point of view (eg. “Jack walked into the bar and had to duck as a bottle crashed into the wall beside his head. He couldn’t tell where the missile had come from. Meanwhile, Terry, sitting in a dark corner at the back cursed his imprecise aim.”
Voluntary reaction
Voluntary reactions are rational actions driven by the engagement of our reason and faculty for choice. They follow the involuntary physical and emotional reactions to the event.
Walla
Background sound belonging to the environment (for example, the sounds of a busy street) – usually intended to help set a scene.

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Story telling is a unique feature of human existence. As far as we know, no other creature in the universe creates stories to tell. The telling of stories in audio drama format activates the imagination and brings great rewards to the listener, but it is also an extremely satisfying form or artistic expression in and of itself.

The spoken word has existed for centuries as a medium for the telling of stories. It creates pictures in our minds that the most special effects laden movies of our era would struggle to create easily. It is not constrained by location, the laws of physics, special effects budgets or any of the mundane things that tend to bog down visual drama. If you can imagine a talking sub-atomic molecule on the other side of the galaxy then you can create it for your listener using the spoken word.

In this lesson we are going to harness the power of speech to adapt and create our own stories. We’ll be using basic and familiar fairytales, fables, and myths as the raw material we work from but once you master the skills involved, you will be able to tell any story using these techniques.

Here are some questions to get you started…

Have you ever tried to write a play? What challenges do you think the task provides?

What unique challenges do you think creating a play for the ears provides?

What rewards do you think you might get out of constructing your own play?

Introduction to Speech (in particular Narration)

Narration is avoided in visual forms of theatre, but in audio, while not essential, can still be very helpful.

The narrator provides editorial comment, introductions, recaps and occasional scene setting.

Avoiding long narrations

It is important that narration not be overlong if it is to hold the attention of the listener. There are two common devices that are used to break up long narration sections.

Proxy listener

The proxy listener is there with the narrator and represents the listening audience. This extra character interrupts with questions, comments, etc. during the narration and so, breaks it up. The disadvantage of the proxy listener is that the character must receive air-time even when the narration is of such a length that they are, strictly speaking, not required.

The proxy listener can also be used to comic effect (as a kind of nuisance questioner) and also as a point of identification for the audience (where the proxy listener is the same age or sex as the desired audience).

Split narration

Split narration is another means of breaking long stretches of narration. In this device various voices take over the narration in a form of vocal relay race. Multiple narrators can be used to differentiate sections of the narration or present differing viewpoints.

New voices can be added where the desire is to make clear an enumeration or list (one voice for each list entry).

A new voice might be used to identify a quotation or several voices might be used to identify a series of quotations.

First person narration

First person narration can be a particularly effective form. The first person narrator has more of a stake in the story (being a part of it) and gives the narration a greater emotional impact. The first person narrator is also speaking directly to the audience (creating a strong emotional connection), inviting them inside the story in the role of a friend.

When first person narration is used the listener rarely feels that the narration is interrupting the story.

Stream of consciousness

Stream of consciousness is the narration of thoughts as they pass through the mind of the narrating character. This can acquire quite a dramatic intensity.

Other guises for first-person narration

First-person narration assumes many other guises in radio. A letter, or group of letters, diaries, addresses to the jury, deathbed confessions, messages to posterity etc. have also worked well.

Types of third-person narration

Generally speaking audio writers prefer characterised to uncharacterised narrators (that is a narrator who is a character). However, the nameless narrator is still used successfully.

The narrator in the script

Typically the narrator bears that label. If the narrator is a character and has a name, then the name is used.

Introduction to Speech (in particular Dialog)

Dialog is the chief tool of the dramatist.  It nonetheless has some special problems.

The vanishing character

For characters to stay alive in the mind of the audience they must speak.  Remarks to or about a character may help, but only speech brings the character to life.  This is why long speeches are often broken up with interjections.

The vanishing character utilised for dramatic purpose

In a story with a mute character the absence of voice can create a disconcerting vacuum – something particularly frightening in the case of the silent burglar or kidnapper who never speaks.

The vanishing character utilised for comedy

In comedy, where the world need not be realistic at all, the sudden intrusion of a voice that the audience was previously unaware of can add extra punch to a gag.

Summary on the vanishing character

Except in the case of special effects, comic or frightening, characters in an audio play must usually be kept alive in the listeners imagination through frequent speech.

The number of characters

It is important that the characters in a scene be distinguishable.  As such, it is usual for the voices to be differentiated in casting into one of five (or six and even seven, on occasion) identifiable types;

Bass                       – Heavy/Elderly male

Contralto             – Elderly female

Baritone              – Leading man

Mezzo-soprano – Leading woman

Tenor                    – Juvenile

Soprano               – Ingenue

Trebble                – Child

While such general patterns are helpful (and scenes are generally restricted to four or five contrasting characters at a time) it is not helpful to apply completely hard and fast rules on the subject (for example you can distinguish two otherwise similar voices quite easily with the addition of a foreign accent, or a speech quirk).  Sometimes it is important for two baritone voices to interact.  The intonation and expressive range of the actors can easily carry this… but it is still helpful to avoid putting two of the same type of voices into a group scene.  Sometimes, equally, it is of little importance whether the voices can be quickly distinguished (such as in an anonymous crowd scene).

Because of the importance of distinguishing voices in audio, the cast tends to be smaller than in other dramatic works.

Dialog positions

Dialog is normally assumed to occur at the microphone.  Terms like AT A DISTANCE, APPROACHING, DEPARTING, FADE IN, FADE OUT etc. tend to indicate those occasions when the character moves away from the microphone.  One special instruction relates to SCREAMS, SHOUTS, or CALLS OUT.  In this case the speaker raises their chin to the ceiling and shouts the lines.

Script length

Dialog is delivered on average at 150 words per minute.  A line will average about three seconds or twenty lines per minute.

In a fifteen-minute program, comprising of thirteen minutes of actual dialog, you can expect to write approximately two thousand words.

It is far easier to cut an overlong passage than it is to pad an over-short one.

When faced with cutting dialog from a scene, ask yourself…

(1)    Does the cut version cover the essential facts?

(2)    Which rhythm do you prefer?

(3)    Does the cutting sharpen the focus and clarify the main point of the scene?

(4)    Is the cut too severe?  Does it render the scene empty of character?

Choice of words

Avoid using difficult-to-pronounce, unfamiliar, or esoteric terms.  It is easy for the listener to get lost (and the listener’s pleasure ends the moment they are lost).  It can also be very difficult for the actor to manage complicated words.  An audio script needs to be easy to read and the words must roll off the tongue, particularly where being performed live.

Choice of names

Names which are difficult to picture or easily confused with other words (consider “you” and “Hugh” in a sentence) or the use of multiple names for the same character (nicknames for example being used in the same play as the character’s right name) should be avoided.  The risk of confusion is too great, especially considering that characters in an audio drama address each other by name more than characters in any other entertainment form (book, stage, or screen).

Dialog directions

Keep directions to the actor to a minimum.  Only use a direction where the line is to be read in a manner different than would otherwise normally be expected.  Keep the directions short so they can be instantly absorbed and acted upon by the actor delivering the line.  When a direction is called for identify it with bracketed capitals eg. (ANGRILY).

Dialog punctuation

Audio dramas often punctuate according to the pacing of the delivery rather than grammatical function or construction.  Three dots or the term (BEAT) are often inserted to indicated a pause or momentary hesitation in the dialog.

An experiment in Radio Dialog

During a movie or television program close your eyes for some time.  At the point you become lost consider which of the following causes is to blame: Didn’t know who was talking… Didn’t know whom he or she was talking to… Didn’t know where they were… Didn’t know quite what they were doing… Too many people all mixed up.

This game should develop an alertness for the various pitfalls of radio dialog: unidentified characters, characters who have “died”, too many characters, unidentified sounds, scenes, actions.

After ascertaining the reason for the confusion, open your eyes until oriented again and repeat the process.

Routine Technique

There are a number of routine techniques employed in the construction of an effective audio script: (1) The Opening; (2) The First Narration; (3) The Scene Setting Moment; (4) Keeping the Setting Alive; (5) Scene Shifting; (6) Dialogue on the Move; (7) The Radio Climax; (8) The Closing.

We’ll be looking at each in turn, but for this week we’ll restrict ourselves to the opening.

The Opening

Radio shows select their listeners. In the golden age of radio it was the job of the opening to, in as succinct and straight-to-the-point a way as possible, invite listeners to give their attention to the show.

All three of the tools – sound effects, music and speech – are available for the purpose.

Sound effects can instantly suggest a characteristic setting or activity.

Music is essential to suggesting the essential mood of a program.

Speech communicates immediate, attention grabbing information (and is usually essential).

They are also useful in combination or rapid alternation.

A typical pattern might be to

1) Divide the information into at least two separate doses,

2) Divided by a brief appetite sharpener of mood-suggesting music or scene-suggesting sound effects.

The key feature of the early radio show openings was brevity. They would begin abruptly with an extremely compact opening that identified the show as quickly as possible before diving into the action.

Many shows had an ending that echoed the opening in some way providing a framework for the telling of each episode.

Of course you may be writing for a show with an existing framework in place. In this case there is no need to write one for yourself.

The first narration

Immediately following the opening comes the first narration, and introductory passage about what’s coming. It usually contains the where, when, and who of the story to follow.

The most frequently encountered form of this introduction is an announcement or straight narration. Nonetheless a variety of forms can be applied.

Multi-voiced introductions

You can split the first narration up among a number of voices, establishing characters quickly along with other required information.

Semi-dramatized introductions

In this case, a piece or two dialogue is inserted to underline and illustrate the narrative.

The lead-in for serials is a special case and will be examined later.

The scene setting moment

The scene setting moment is concerned with the transition from the first narration to actual dialog.

The crucial need of this moment is to create an immediate sense of the reality of the scene.

Some scenes set themselves with little effort because of their familiarity ( a train station or police headquarters for example).

Other scenes may require more assistance.

A scene-setting sound

Sounds can provide sudden dynamic evidence of a physical world. Adding the click of a typewriter to the mention of a newspaper office, or a car horn to a street scene helps establish it solidly in the listener’s imagination.

Atmospheric Dialog

The narrator can employ a few well-chosen words for the establishment of a scene as well, describing the warm breeze blowing through the grass that stretches across the park through which our protagonists are taking a walk. Our protagonists then spend a moment or two commenting on the nice weather etc. in order to further cement the scene for the listener.

Obvious versus implied scene-setting

Serials often begin with an obvious scene setting moment; “… Today we find our heroes at …”

No words are wasted and the action gets underway immediately.

Less obviously the scene is established by the dialog of the characters and underlined by the sound design.

Eg.

SOUND: DOOR OPENS AND BITTER WIND IS HEARD BLOWING. DOOR CLOSES, CUTTING OFF WIND AS JIM ENTERS THE ROOM.

JIM: It’s damn cold outside today Bob. How’re things in your lab.

BOB: It’s a biologist’s nightmare Jim. The three white mice are so cold their chattering teeth sound like a craps game on a tin roof. And my goldfish, Chester? Well, he’s so cold he’s turned blue. How’re things over in administration?

Here the essential information (cold, biologist, lab, mice, goldfish, Bob, administration, and Jim) is given to the listener indirectly yet very effectively via the sound and dialog. We’ve learned the scene takes place in a biology lab, that Jim is a biologist and has mice and goldfish on hand, and that Bob is from administration

Overlapping of narration and scene

This can be a little complex to describe so I’ll give an example. It’s a technique that allows you to use a sound effect (or occasionally music) to overlap the narration with the new scene.

For example

NARRATOR: On the mean streets of Star City crime is an ever present reality.

SOUND: POLICE SIRENS IN THE DISTANCE – GROWING NEARER. FADE IN AND REMAIN UNDER.

NARRATOR: On this particular winter’s night Police Detective Jack Wilson and his partner are engaged in a high speed chase with a murder suspect.

SOUND: BRING SIRENS UP AND ENGINE NOISE – MUFFLED AS FROM INTERIOR OF CAR. ESTABLISH AND UNDER.

SOUND: SQUEAL TIRES – LET IT FINISH.

JACK: Damn Phil, don’t get us killed!

PHIL: Sorry, Jack, but he’s getting away!

Keeping the setting alive

Without cues to keep us in the moment, our mental picture of the setting of a scene will fade and recede. In long scenes it is therefore sometimes necessary to revive this image.

The writer can do this through dialog; commenting on the room or location etc.

Generally speaking, this is better accomplished through the use of a sound effect. The effect is unobtrusive and repaints the picture in a single stroke.

Here the use of the sound effect is the equivalent to the way in which a book writer inserts a descriptive moment into the middle of dialog in order to reinforce the picture in the reader’s mind.

Dramatic Scene Structure

Typically a dramatic scene is made up of six parts that are arranged in two sections.

The first presents the situation.

  1. The scene establishes the protagonists goal and answers the question why is the character here and what does he/she want?
  2. It presents a conflict and answers the question who or what is trying to prevent the character from achieving this goal and how?
  3. It presents a disaster that thwarts the character in a devastating way.

The second section presents the reaction

  1. The character reacts to the disaster at a reflexive then emotional level.
  2. The character then reviews the options available and tries to predict the possible outcomes.
  3. The character makes a decision (choosing a new goal) that leads directly to the next scene.

It is important to remember that a character’s reaction ALWAYS occurs in this order;

  • reflex (eg. the physical jump that occurs after a boo scare),
  • emotion (eg. the recognition of the actual emotional feeling of fear which follows the jump),
  • rational thought (eg. the engagement of rational thought to deal with the source of the scare).

Because it can be difficult to develop each of these six elements of the scene with a single character, it is often better to have two protagonists who can act as a sounding board for each other. A character who must talk to him or herself in order to reveal their inner emotional reactions is far less satisfying to the audience than a pair of characters in dialog.

Example Scene (Structural Summary)

Scene: Police Detective Ray and Sunshine are sent out to the scene of what they hope will be a straightforward murder investigation. The neighbours heard a husband and wife fighting loudly, screams, and then saw the husband drive rapidly away.

1. Goal: Arriving at the scene they find the Medical Examiner already there. They want to wrap the investigation up quickly and go get some lunch.

2. Conflict: The medical examiner doesn’t like the way the scene looks and tries to convince them they should look more closely.

3. Disaster: They find a stabbed and badly beaten little girl in the cupboard, bleeding and left for dead. She saw everything and manages to say “It wasn’t daddy, it was daddy’s friend…” before slipping into a coma induced by blood-loss.

4. Reaction: Jump with fright on opening the cupboard, followed by sympathy on seeing the little girl and frustration that things aren’t going to be nearly so cut and dried as the Detectives would have liked.

5. Exploring the options. The detectives discuss whether the girl should be believed, the fact that the husband/father still needs to be brought in for questioning, the fact that the M.E who also saw and heard the girl wouldn’t let them ignore her statement even if they wanted to, and whether they can still take time out for lunch.

6. Decision and new goal. “So much for open and shut! I guess we’ll have to investigate.”

Scene Shifting

There are a variety of devices that can be used to transition from one scene to another. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

The Pause

The last few words of the previous scene are faded out, a pause occurs, and the first words of the new scene fade in. Generally the new scene is suggested in the closing words of the old scene.

A scene fadeout should be spread over four to fifteen seconds and, as a rule, the last few words in the fading of a speech should be confined to words of no importance to prevent important information being lost to people with their audio set low – words like good-bye, or repetitive phrases are good.

Likewise the fade in to the next scene should begin on an unimportant phrase.

The pause-transition works best at a moment of suspense, relying on anticipation for the next scene to maintain dramatic interest over the dead-stop of the pause.

It can also be a helpful device when there is a very close connection between the material faded out and in – as where an individual begins reading a diary in one scene and fades to the voice of the original writer narrating the events in the next.

Disadvantages

A pause doesn’t announce the end of the scene in as obvious a manner as music does.

Many speeches do not make good fades (do not provide suitable unimportant words at the end to make the fade effective).

The dead stop of the pause can come at the cost of the listener’s continuing dramatic interest.

Advantages

No music or sound effects are required to achieve the pause-transition. This makes it cheaper and less effort to accomplish.

It can create a more natural feel in a show (since it doesn’t introduce any non-natural elements such as sound and narration).

Narration

Sometimes the transition from one scene to another is handled by a narrator saying something like “Meanwhile, three miles out of town camping in a dried up creek bed the Dalton gang plan their next move”.

Narration doesn’t quite provide the effect of a curtain on its own so the fade out of the old scene is usually still needed. Generally only a three to five word fade is required (unlike the pause transition which requires a longer fade).

Advantages

The story doesn’t need to halt when a narrator aids the transition. The pause between dialogue and narration can be almost negligibly short.

Narration-transitions come in at full volume and do not needed to be faded in.

Narration also allows the writer to introduce fast and frequent changes of scene.

Disadvantages

The narrator can be used in a clumsy manner if a proxy-listener character must be brought to the foreground. Transitions are better handled by the narrator alone rather than the narrator in dialogue with a proxy-listener.

Some folks feel narration breaks the sense of immersion built up by the dialogue. This is not necessarily the case since the listener participates actively in maintaining the illusion of being present on the scene.

The above point is very controversial for some folks (many producers of modern audio drama are highly vocal in their dislike of narration in general). Personally I enjoy it, even if I don’t use it much in my own scripts.

Sound Effect Transitions

Particularly useful in action drama, the sound effect makes a great means of shifting the scene. As with the pause transition, it works best when the setting of the new scene is foreshadowed by the concluding words of the old. It is also more effective where the sound background is repeated/repetitive (as such sounds can be faded out easily without creating confusion).

For example, a protagonist ends a scene by mentioning the need to catch a train (fading out), the sound of the train is introduced (fading in), and the conductor asks for tickets or calls “all aboard” as the sound is faded into the background.

Advantages

Where the fade-in has been handled by the sound effect, dialog can come in at full volume and get right down to business.

The sound effect transition is also a very quick transition. In some cases it can even overlap a scene (particularly useful for flashbacks)

Disadvantages

The sound effect transition tends to work best in action stories and doesn’t lend itself particularly well to stories with a home atmosphere.

The sound effect transition also works best where the effect is created through an ongoing background noise (such as an engine, background babble of a theatre or restaurant etc. that can be faded in and out).

Musical Transitions

This is probably the most common form of transition used in audio drama.  It is probably the clearest form of auditory “curtain” used between scenes

Advantages

A musical transition is easily recognised as a curtain by the listener.

The musical transition can be varied to commuinicate a particular mood (anger, joy, triumph, despair, etc.) as well as signal the end of a scene.

Bridging musical transitions can move the audience from the feeling of one scene into the mood of the next (assisting in the narration).

A musical transition can be used without requiring the old scene to be faded out.

Dialog in the new scene does not need to be faded in.

Music can transition into the sound of the next scene where the sound effect carries a similar rythm.

Disadvantages

The main disadvantage of the musical transition is the cost of commissioning the music itself.   However, there are large libraries of free and public domain music that can be approached for pre-recorded music.

Combination Transitions

A combination transition is a complex transition in which sound, music, and narration are combined to curtain the scene.

Advantages

By combining transition techniques the shift between one scene and another can be made much more immersive and dramatic.

Disadvantages

Complex transitions of this type, if not directed carefully, can be very confusing for the audience.

A note on consistency in transitions

Never feel constrained to use one and only one transition. Non-naturalistic transitions (like music and narration) should probably be established early, but transitions are tools and should be selected for their contribution to the telling of your story and not for the sake of consistency.

Conventional Symbols

Some sounds have taken on a conventional meaning over time. The slidewhistle and chime both can indicate a magical occurance. The chinese gong or cymbal crash often indicates a dramatic transition. A harp glissando often indicates the shifting of time (into the past and backagain) for flashbacks etc. Be careful of using these conventions, however. Their very popularity has made them into something of a cliche.

Dialogue on the Move (simulating movement on radio)

Characters can move from place to place while engaged in dialog. There are two techniques which can help to sell the idea that movement is occuring during conversation.

Fade out Fade in

One way to achieve this is to fade the conversation out and then back in to suggest the movement (the actors moving away from, and then back towards, the microphone). The audience members identify themselves with a fixed point in one location, listening to the conversation depart, and then with a fixed point in the new location, listening as the conversation approaches.

The Moving Mike

The second way to achieve this effect is to use sound effects to give the impression of movement. Going from inside to outside one might keep the actors voices level in the foreground but include the sound of footsteps, a door opening, and fade in the sound of bird noises etc to indicate the outdoors are being approached.

The Radio Climax

Unlike the stage where it is possible to give the spotlight to one particular party in a conflict at the climax, radio rarely has this luxury. The need to keep both parties to the conflict “alive” in the minds of the audience usually requires the writer to include shorter and shorter speeches, of increasingly dramatic delivery to build the necessary impact and heat.

Of course, there are a variety of ways to maintain the tension; someone sobbing throughout the speech or constantly attempting to interrupt it with more and more desperation would also work.

Closing a Radio Drama (the Radio Close)

A denoument scene can be written whereby the characters bring the drama to a close through dialog, but this is not the only means of closing a drama.

Narration in closing

Narration can be very helpful as a means of presenting the close of a drama.

It can shorten the anti-climax period since it is more economical than dialog.

It allows us to leave the drama at a point of high interest dialog in order to maximise its impact.

It gives us a chance to skip the story forward directly into later days and years.

Music in closing

Music is an essential curtain for the drama. It signals the end of the drama, provides a place for the credits to be read out along with any final sponsorship messages, and can be gradually snuck into the closing moments of the story, swelling when the end is accomplished, to help audiences prepare for the inevitable conclusion of the play.

 

What is the purpose of narration in an audio drama?

Describe three different narration techniques?

What is “the vanishing character”? How may it be utilised?

What advice does the lesson content give regarding the number of characters and choice of character names?

What are the six elements of a typical scene?

Describe the advantages and disadvantages of three different transition techniques?

Adapting a story for audio dramatization

This exercise is based on a twenty five to thirty minute script. You can easily adapt it for shorter scripts, though.

Decide on the length of script you wish the students to produce.

Length of scriptApprox. words
5 mins668
10 mins1336
15 mins2004
20 mins2672
25 mins3340
30 mins4008

Select a story to adapt

Grimm’s fairytales, Aesop’s Fables, and numerous Greek and other myths are in the public domain and can be easily obtained on line. We have included a number on our website (in this handy .pdf located at http://weirdworldstudios.com/download/fairytales-fables-folk-stories-and-myths-a-resource-for-lesson-6-of-audio-drama-for-schools/ that you can reproduce and/or distribute to your class.

Look for stories with a standard structure. The character should be introduced, be given a goal, encounter obstacles, face a major set-back, confront the source of the obstacles, overcome the source of the conflict (by winning or losing), and be changed as a result.

Provide each student with a copy of the original story.

Analyse the story

Have students read the story and identify its structure.

Summarize the story with the class as a series of events written in simple, complete, present-tense sentences.

Label these sentences with the corresponding story structures (inciting incident, point of no return, reversal, etc).

Add any details as needed.

Where there are gaps have the students invent events or characters to fill them. The following worksheet will be useful for completing this task.

LabelsStory Events
Act 1
Inciting incident
Initial obstacle
Act 2
Raising the stakes
Point of No Return
Rising Tension I
(Optional) Redirection
(Optional) Rising Tension II
Reversal
Act 3
Escape
Final confrontation
Denouement

Divide the summary into scenes

Each scene may contain more than one item from the list.

A scene is a series of events taking place in a single location for a single continuous duration. Even if the location does not change, it is better to consider events that take place after a shift in time as constituting a new scene.

Narration was, until recently, considered a handy tool for the creation of audio drama. In recent years, however, it has fallen distinctly out of favour. Some feel it breaks the illusion and immersiveness of the drama to have a voice over introduce a scene or play. Others feel it breaks down the distinction between and audio drama and an audio book.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of narration as a tool in the audio dramatist’s toolbox?

Does it break the listener out of the story?

Does it turn drama into a mere prose reading of the story?

The tools in your audio drama tool box are yours to apply according to how appropriate you feel they are to the telling of your stories.

Is narration a tool you want to make use of?

Write the Script

Analyse each scene

Describe the setting (where and when and what items/props are present).

List the characters that are present. What goals do the characters in the scene have – why do they want to achieve them? How do they try to achieve them?

What happens in the scene (look at the events for the scene)?

Each scene should have a goal, obstacle, setback, reaction, exploration of options, and decision leading into the next scene.

List the sound effects the scene may need?

The following worksheet may be helpful …

Scene#
Location
Time
Names of characters

who are present

Protagonists’ goals

(What do the characters want to accomplish in this location?)

Protagonists’ conflict

(What is attempting to stop them?)

Protagonists’ disaster

(What disaster strikes to derail the characters’ plans?)

Protagonists’ reaction

(What emotional reaction do they experience when disaster strikes?)

Protagonists’ dilemma

(What options do they explore and what do they predict each option will lead to?)

Protagonists’ decision

(What decision do they reach regarding what to do next?)

Write the Scene

Instruct students to write the dialog for each scene. Ask them to ensure all relevant events are covered. Insert directions for sound effects, music and transitions as required.

Revise the Scene

Instruct students to review and revise each scene until they are happy with the result. Check for spelling and other errors.

Format the script

Instruct students to make sure the script is formatted appropriately (lines numbered, scenes labelled, dialog and directions formatted, Sfx and music highlighted correctly etc.).

Remind them to perform a read through of the script to identify any final problems.

For assessment:

Students are to submit a 25 to 30 minute script adapting a fairytale, fable, or myth for audio presentation. The final script must include all necessary directions for sound and music and conform to appropriate script format. (approx. 4000 words)

Writing your own audio script is quite an accomplishment in itself, and hearing it performed is even better. In these lessons we’ve examined the science behind radio, its history leading to the development of radio drama, the appreciation of radio drama, reading audio drama, performing audio drama, and the writing of audio drama scripts. Audio drama is still alive and well as an art form and is currently achieving a significant resurgence in popularity (especially on-line). You can check out many of the great Old Time shows as well as find links to fantastic new shows on the www.weirdworldstudios.com website.

Narration must be short or, when unavoidable, broken up to hold attention.

Because audio drama is not a visual medium, the presence of a character is indicated only by their speech. As such they can quickly be forgotten if they do not have dialog to keep them present in the listeners mind.

A variety of common techniques are used to open the play, establish the scenes and transition between them, and close the play.

Scenes have six general components (the character goal, a conflict, a disaster, a reaction, an exploration of options, and a decision leading to the next scene).

To adapt a story the writer needs to analyse the original material and fit it to the typical story macro-structure (adding or subtracting material where necessary) – 3 acts, inciting incident, initial obstacle, raising the stakes, point of no return, rising tension, (optionally) redirection, (optionally) rising tension again, reversal, final confrontation, and denoument.

The story is then broken into scenes and each scene should be conformed to the scene micro-structure – goal, conflict, disaster, reaction, exploring the options, decision.

Each scene is then written, complete with dialog, SFX, and musical directions. The final product is revised, formatted appropriately, read for final changes, and submitted.

What are the basic elements of 3 act story structure?

What are the six basic elements of a scene?

What techniques are used to introduce, set the scene for, transition, and close an audio drama?

What are the steps you used to write your own script?

This was the final lesson in this unit.

The content of this lesson is copyright © 2015 Weirdworldstudios.com

Lessons

Worked Example (Radio Adaptation of Rapunzel)