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THE ROYAL TAPES, Writing For Radio

I carted myself off to Bristol last night for the workshop for the BBC Royal Tapes, an opportunity from The Writers’ Room in conjunction with BBC Radio Five Live. It proved an interesting night, though disappointingly no one in the crowd seemed “up” for networking. I spoke to a few people outside, but inside the actual room there was a sombre and intent air of the thirty or so present. Though most took copious notes, so I guess I’m going to have some mean competition – not least because there were other workshops that week in places like Newcastle and London too.

So, for those of you who couldn’t make it to your nearest workshop (and you better have had a good reason, they were FREE!), here are my notes. Hope you like them (if you do, send chocolate! Need it – my flat’s buyer has just pulled out of the sale citing “financial difficulties” and the whole chain is in danger of collapse, meaning we might just lose that nice place with the wendy house… More later on this if I can stop gnashing my teeth and swearing at random passersby with the frustration of it all).

Present on the panel was Paul Ashton, development manager at the Writers’ Room (harangued him mercilessly, obviously) and two radio writers, Paul Dodgson and Hattie Naylor whom I harangued separately before they pointed out they were actually partners. Whoops. Anyway. Next!

This competition follows a series of successful competitions between The Writers’ Room and the Radio Departments at the BBC: Sports Shorts on R5 (view a winning script here) and last year’s Imagine Competition for R2. The Royal Tapes, Paul explained, is about the themed notion of monarchy: what it means to people today, how people really feel about it using drama as the platform instead of studio debate. Submissions must be 3 minutes long (at 45 secs a page in radio then, instead of 1 min per page as with screenwriting, that’s approximately 4.5 pages); the scripts should ideally focus on two charcaters; they should be about YOUR perspective: what do you see? Feel? Think about The Monarchy? The scripts can be almost sketches, but they need to do something unusual, something never seen before. DEADLINE: twelve noon, Friday June 29th.

June 29th!!! That’s just a week away from today! So how to go about it?

Paul asked the audience what they thought of when they thought of the monarchy and I tried to scribble down as many as possible. Here goes:

– Tourism
– Soap Opera
– Conspiracy
– Class
– Stability/Instability
– Horses and Dogs
– Revolution and Anarchy
– Cursed (particularly the women)

Paul stressed that the dramas needn’t actually contain the Royal Family as characters: it could be the “knock on” effect they may create. A good example: Harry’s been told he can’t go to war, so what about the soldier who goes in his place?

Paul Ashton asked Hattie and the other Paul to provide new radio writers with some nuggets of wisdom and they told us:

Hattie: Allow yourself to write a load of rubbish for the first draft – something good will come out of it.
Paul: Be conscious of trying to “grab” an audience, use a hook. Don’t try and warm them up, start the story straight away. The first 30 secs of a drama makes an audience stay – or switch off.
Hattie: Enjoy the writing, have as much fun as possible: the Reader will pick up on that.
Paul: Make it rounded – a really good story just WORKS, don’t try and tailor-make it to “fit”, chances are it won’t.

A Gentleman in the audience asked Paul Ashton if monologues were acceptable. Paul replied they were, but to be aware that monologues are not easier to write than two-handers. He asserted that there must be a dramatic voice behind a monologue, there must be that sense of personality so there can be real drama in the telling. too often monologues feel flat. Also ask yourself: is this the BEST way to tell this story?

Paul Ashton made another point that I would not have considered – music is cheap on the radio. It’s what they play all day, they’ve got all the relevant licenses already. So unlike a screenplay where rights need to be obtained, etc, music is a good “short cut” in radio. Music can be a character. Just as surprising: there are no real hang-ups about format in radio. They have many writers formatting in many different ways. You just need to indicate sound, effects, specific music etc and differentiate between that and dialogue, scene description, etc accordingly. In other words – there are not going to be any penalties for “incorrect” format.

So to round up, seems to me – as long as you stick within some loose perimeters, anything goes as long as the monarchy is involved somewhere down the line. As someone who’s wanted to explore the notion of writing radio drama for some time but just never getting round to it, this is the perfect excuse – and deadline – to knuckle down to. I just may not come up for air a week so don’t panic if I disappear. If you’re entering and/or went to any of the other workshops round the country, let us know!

If you’re going to have a go at this comp, check out these links:

For everything you need to write your own radio drama, including points on characters, dialogue and formatting, click here.

Here is another sample radio script so you can make a comparison with the Writers’ Room version.

And another – though this one is rather green. I had a bathroom like it actually.

And if you have time, this article is rather splendid:

Bringing A Radio Script To Life by Bert Coules, here.

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9 thoughts on “THE ROYAL TAPES, Writing For Radio”

  1. Hmmmm… I did. Now you have me worried. I don’t think it said not to, but I’m pretty bad at reading rules…

    I used the ScriptSmart template from writersroom, and that’s set up to put my name in there automatically.

  2. Don’t worry – if it didn’t say not to, it should be fine. Just been on my mind because Shell and I were talking about Fever Pitch Entries earlier and I don’t think it says you can’t there either… But just in case, naming just the file in that one with it being a proposal.

  3. Thanks for all this info, Lucy. Very good of you to post it amid your house worries. One day, you’ll be in Bournemouth and it will all seem like a dream…

  4. Cheers Elinor. Figure whatever will be, will be. If that means we end up in rented, then that’s better than not getting there in time for the new job and the boy’s new school… Well, so be it. Gotta be philosophical: worse things happen! ; )

  5. Lucy, Thanks a zillion for posting all this info.- very generous of you. Now, just got to find an idea and time to scribble it down in under 4 days…

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