Illustration banner

How to write for radio

Thu 27 Sep 2018

How to write for radio

When writing for radio, it can be easy to overlook the fact that the possibilities are endless. There is no place or idea that is shut off to you – no risk of the lighting being not quite right or chance that the budget will run out for the set design. The power of writing for radio comes from the combined imagination of the listener and writer.

Are you passionate about writing for radio? Here are 3 copywriting tips, so you can get the best out of your script.

1. Understand how people listen to the radio

An obvious but essential point to keep in mind, writing for radio is not the same as writing for stage and screen and not only must the writer convey their story uniquely with dialogue, they also have to understand how people listen to the radio.

BBC Radio 4 commissioner Caroline Raphael points out that ‘people usually have the radio on in the background for company and rarely tune in for specific shows. They listen in a linear way and just keep listening to what comes on next. However, people also listen in different ways depending on the time of day – know the slot you are writing for back to front’.

With the above quote in mind, when you come to write your script, make sure you know when the prime spot is for the genre you’re writing for, whether it’s comedy, thriller, documentary or soap.

2. Less is more

Language and dialogue is more potent on the radio, so keeping it simple is definitely the way to go. How you use silences is also paramount, creating atmosphere and a bit of room for the listener to breathe. Did you know that radio has the fastest turn-off rate of all drama? Capture your audience from the off and eliminate any content that is not relevant to the story and beware of including too much imagery that might overwhelm the listener.

3. You can explore a character’s personality through the use of grammar and syntax

When listening to radio, the listener will primarily (and subconsciously) decipher each characters’ traits and personalities from the idiosyncrasies in their use of grammar and syntax as well as their intonation. Emotions and traits like anxiety, happiness, anger, kindness, envy and sloth can be illustrated through patterns that appear in a character’s speech.

If you're looking to take the next step in your career as a radio scriptwriter, find out how the Writing For Script and Screen course could help you reach your potential.

Discover more:

5 common screenwriting mistakes to avoid

How to become a screenwriter