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The sounds of your world

Writing audio drama is about identifying significant sound. You need to identify and create the sound world that carries and tells your story as effectively as possible. Do you want to write naturalistic audio drama? A science fiction? A period piece?

Once you’ve identified your world, start to think about significant sound – what are the sounds that tell the story and set the picture, as opposed to sounds that are there automatically. Don’t fill your script with very single sound that could possibly be heard in this setting – too many will just get in the way. As the writer, choose the ones that are important to tell your story.

How to tell which sounds matter? Sit down, anywhere you like, close your eyes and listen for 60 seconds. When you open your eyes, write down every single sound you heard, in as much detail as you can. Think about how near the sounds were to you; who might have made them; what might be about to happen next because of that sound. Think about the sound you didn’t immediately identify – why were they not clear? Did the mystery sounds suggest a certain type of place or person? How did the sounds make you feel? If the sound had been nearer to you, would that have changed how you felt about it?

Just as Harold Pinter famously started writing The Homecoming with the line ‘What have you done with the scissors?’, so now take one of the sounds you heard and start to write. Follow your instinct – let the sound guide you and be as bold as you like with how you use it. Just because it was actually your neighbour on a motorbike screeching past you late for work, as he is every Thursday morning, doesn’t mean it can’t be an intergalactic spaceship on a rescue mission, or the leader of a mainstream political party on her way to a secret rendezvous with her long-lost brother who has a secret that would blow her career sky-high and is asking for money in return for holding his tongue. You chose – sound is the vital part of your toolkit.

To help with thinking in sound, and creating an engaging first five minutes to your drama – listen to the first five minute of a radio drama on BBC iPlayer, and then pause it. Jot down who you heard, where they are, and what you think will happened next. Then press play again and keep listening – were you right? Were your ideas of what happened next more interesting? How would you have done it differently?

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