Writing Audio Drama offers a comprehensive and intelligent guide to writing sound drama for broadcasting and online. This book uses original research on the history of writing radio plays in the UK and USA to explore how this has informed and developed the art form for more than 100 years.
Audio drama in the context of podcasting is now experiencing a global and exponential expansion. Through analysis of examples of past and present writing, the author explains how to create drama which can explore deeply psychological and intimate themes and achieve emotional, truthful, entertaining and thought-provoking impact. Practical analysis of the key factors required to write successful audio drama is covered in chapters focusing on audio play beginnings and openings, sound story dialogue, sustaining the sound story, plotting for sound drama, and the best ways of ending audio plays. Chapters are supported by online resources which expand visually on subjects discussed and point to exemplary sound dramas referenced in the chapters.
This textbook will be an important resource for advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students taking courses such as Podcasting, Radio, Audio Drama, Scriptwriting, and Media Writing.
The content of all the companion web-pages for this project is in the process of development, and completion is expected 31st December 2023 following the publication of the printed book 31st March 2023. Many thanks for your patience and consideration.
Updates and additions to Chapter 10 ‘Ending the Sound Story’ in Writing Audio Drama by Tim Crook published by Routledge in 2023.
What is there special about the sound medium of storytelling that offers devices, themes, and techniques in ending plays more effectively?
Does the sound medium and process of listening mean that an end will work better in emotional climax, resolution or reflection in ambiguity?
Can a sound play tantalize and ratchet up tension in the style of Hollywood cinema whereby there can be two, three, four or even five endings each spiralling the suspense and excitement to the next level?
Is there a need for sound clarity?
Can sound play endings have a satisfactory finishing point by holding back information and leaving the curiosity and intrigue to the listener’s imagination?
Indeed how much should the writer end for the listener rather than leave the listener to end for him or herself?
The chapter includes analysis of the following radio plays:
Make Like Slaves by South African novelist and playwright Richard Rive, Family Spear by Ugandan playwright Elvania Namukwaya Zirimu, and Station Street by Sudanese writer Khalid Almubarak Mustafa. Further detailed discussion is centred on the endings in Lucille Fletcher’s plays The Hitchhiker and Sorry, Wrong Number, Caryl Phillips’ The Wasted Years, Richard Durham’s The Heart of George Cotton, The Trumpet Talks, Anatomy of an Ordinance, Bertolt Brecht’s The Trial of Lucullus, and Morten Wishengrad’s The Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Extracts selected and analysed in the printed text for the purposes of criticism and review, scholarship and learning.
Make Like Slaves by Richard Rive. (1931-1989).
Analysis engaged on page 171, paragraphs 5 & 6:
SHE: If you’re interested. Act two is literally and dramatically the centre. The middle passage. They are captured and in a boat going across the Atlantic. An overcrowded boat. Chained down, whipped, abused. The longing for home. Nostalgia. Have you read Robert Hayden? I believe he is a famous American Negro poet. I came across him very recently. He wrote a beautiful epic about it called Middle Passage. I would like to call my play Middle Passage if Mr Hayden doesn’t mind.
HE: I’ve read Robert Hayden.
SHE: I do like him.
HE: What about your play? You were describing act two.
SHE: And then the finale. They make like slaves.
SHE: They make like slaves. Oh, it’s a bit of drama school slang I picked up when I was studying in London. They make like slaves. They sing sorrow-songs. Spirituals. This can be very moving.
HE: ‘Yet do I marvel.’
SHE: Excuse me?
HE: I was quoting from another great American poet, Countee Cullen.
SHE: Was he also a Negro?
HE: I don’t think it matters. He was a poet. ‘Yet do I marvel at this curious thing, to make black and bid him sing.’
SHE: That really has feeling. How do they say? Soul.
HE: Yes, it has feeling.
SHE: But this is actually what I came about. I’m having some problems with my players.
SHE: Yes. To give you one example. I’m strict, very strict when it comes to work. Especially about things like punctuality. I think they resent it. I think they also resent the fact that I am white and they are black.
HE: So, how do I come into this?
SHE: Well…You’re in the middle so to speak. Being brown you can speak to them and to me. They’ll understand. They’ll listen to you. I’d like to tell you more but I’m afraid I just have to go now otherwise I’ll be late. I’d like to come around next week and explain it all to you. May I?
HE: I don’t really know.
Family Spear by Elvania Namukwaya Zirimu (1938 – 1979).
Analysis engaged on page 172, paragraph 3:
SEEKISA: (Groaning) Debya, Debya.
DEBYA: (Crying out) Help, Nnakidde, Seekisa is not well.
NNAKIDDE: My brother, what is it?
DEBYA: Hold here. Help me take him into our house.
NNAKIDDE: Will this boy just walk away when he sees his father like this?
DEBYA (Going off mic) Leave him alone. We must get Seekisa to lie down. Come, Nnakidde, take his other arm. He looks very ill.
Fx Distant thunder again
BIRUNGI: The storm is breaking out. Are you sure you want to go?
MUWEESI: We must go.
BIRUNGI: He may be dying.
MUWEESI: He’s been dying a long time.
BIRUNGI: Do you love him?
MUWEESI: The way to walk is long. Don’t let’s waste energy with talk. (Very hesitantly and thoughtfully) Let’s go.
Fx Thunder louder- then fade out slowly.
Station Street by Khalid Almubarak Mustafa.
Analysis engaged page 173 paragraphs 1 to 3:
Both have been in the family since the Battle of Omdurman, 1898, and are my most precious possessions. The sword was found in the hand of my grandfather who fell defending this country against invasion. The dagger belonged to my uncle and has seen the same battle. My only request is that my sons should honour my name by taking active part in the struggle for independence. If these words are read after independence, they should then take part in the next immediate task which I cannot foresee or define now.
OSMAN: (Off mic) Yes, mother.
MOTHER: Come on and have some sleep. It’s quite late. (Pause) What is it you are doing, fixed to the window like that? Nothing to see but a dusty small street. (Pause) You haven’t forgotten to go and say good-bye to Nour and the Sergeant, have you?
OSMAN: (Off mic) How could I, mother. And Nadia too.
MOTHER: Are you sure you’ve packed all the things you need?
(Pause) You’ll have to get up early if you want to catch that early morning train, you know.
OSMAN: (Off mic) Don’t worry. The railway station is only ten minutes’ walk from here.
MOTHER: Osman, do come away from that window and have some rest!
OSMAN: (Coming on mic) Yes, mother.
MOTHER: Your father used to sit by the window and watch the traffic and the people.
OSMAN: (To himself) Really!
MOTHER: He’d sometimes be joined by the Sergeant or Nour and – believe it or not – they’d walk to the station just for the fun of watching trains and travellers. They often, quite unexpectedly, ran into acquaintances or relatives on their way to this or that part of the country. (Pause) I’m sure the Sergeant will be a very good father-in-law to you, Nour, too, would have been very good to him, to Salim. They had so many things in common with your father.
OSMAN: All members of the first Independence Group. Thanks to father’s document, they are both being honoured as heroes now. (Low voice) Allah sometimes likes to have a good laugh.
Mother: I can’t hear you. What is it you are muttering?
Osman: (Still low voice) I can’t help wondering, if he, too, survived the mutiny –
Mother: What was that?
Osman: Nothing, Mother, nothing.
fx: Mother starts to cough. Loud, clear, train whistles drown cough. Fade out.
The Hitch hiker by Lucille Fletcher.
Analysis engaged page 174, paragraph 1:
MRS WHITNEY: Mrs Adams’ residents.
ADAMS: Hell. Hello—Mother?
MRS WHITNEY: (Very flat and rather proper …dumb, too in a frizzy sort of way.) This is Mrs. Adams’ residence. Who is it you wished to speak to, please?
ADAMS: Why—who’s this?
MRS WHITNEY: This is Mrs. Whitney.
ADAMS: Mrs Whitney? I don’t know any Mrs Whitney. Is this Beechwood 2-0828?
MRS WHITNEY: Yes.
ADAMS: Where’s my mother. Where’s Mrs. Adams?
MRS WHITNEY: Mrs Adams is not at home. She is still in the hospital.
ADAMS: The hospital!
MRS WHITNEY: Yes. Who is this calling, please? Is it a member of the family?
ADAMS: What’s she in the hospital for?
MRS WHITNEY: She’s been prostrated for five days. Nervous breakdown. But who is this calling?
Analysis engaged 174 paragraphs 2 & 3:
ADAMS: Nervous breakdown? But—my mother was never nervous.
MRS WHITNEY: It’s all taken place since the death of her oldest son, Ronald.
ADAMS: Death of her oldest son, Ronald …? Hey— what is this? What number is this?
MRS WHITNEY: This is Beechwood 2-0828. It’s all been very sudden. He was killed just six days ago in an automobile accident on the Brooklyn Bridge.
OPERATOR: (Breaking in.) Your three minutes are up, sir.
OPERATOR: Your three minutes are up, sir. (Pause.) Your three minutes are up, sir (Fade.) Sir, your three minutes are up. Your three minutes are up, sir.
Sorry, Wrong Number by Lucille Fletcher.
Analysis engaged page 175, paragraph 1:
OPERATOR: Your call, please?
MRS STEVENSON: (Whisper) Operator! Operator! — I — I’m in desperate
trouble – I…
OPERATOR: I’m sorry, I cannot hear you. Please, speak louder.
MRS STEVENSON: …I don’t dare speak louder. There’s someone listening.
Can you hear me now?
OPERATOR: I’m sorry…
MRS STEVENSON: But you’ve got to hear me! Please, please. You’ve got
to help me. There’s someone in this house — someone who’s going
to murder me — and you’ve got to get in touch with the…
SFX: CLICKS ON TELEPHONE
MRS STEVENSON: There it is! Did you hear it? He’s put it down. He’s
put down the extension phone. He’s coming up the stairs. Give me
the police department.
Analysis engaged page 175, paragraph 2 & 3:
OPERATOR: One moment, please, I will connect you.
SFX: DIALING, RINGING
MRS STEVENSON: OK. Hurry. I can hear him. Oh, no. Please, oh, god,
hurry. –(begins a scream, barely audible at first, then
gradually louder until it merges with train whistle)
SFX: Roar of train crossing the bridge.
SFX: AS TRAIN FADES, PHONE RINGING EMERGES
MARTIN: Police department, precinct 53, Sergeant Martin
GEORGE: Eh, er, police department? Oh, I’m sorry. Must have
got the wrong numbah.
MUSIC: SUBTLE STING
GEORGE: Don’t worry. Everything’s OK.
SFX: TELEPHONE HANG UP.
MUSIC: DRAMATIC CHORD CLIMAX, THEN SWELL TO CLOSE
The Wasted Years by Caryl Phillips.
Analysis engaged page 175, paragraph 1:
CYNTHIA. And as you always used to say, Roy, you got nothing for nothing. But when I look at our two boys, I know the price I paid was cheap. They’ve got a life now, Roy. We don’t matter anymore. At least coming to England has given them a chance.
Analysis engaged page 175, paragraph 2:
SOLLY. I want to sleep.
CHRIS. Is your face still hurting?
SOLLY. Yeah. I’ll see you in the morning, Chris. In the morning, man.
He is falling asleep.
Analysis engaged page 175, paragraph 3:
CYNTHIA. No argument. We’ve got to be up early in the morning, all right?
CHRIS. All right.
CYNTHIA. I’ll wake you both up.
CYNTHIA. Goodnight. Both of you, sleep well.
Analysis engaged page 175, paragraph 4:
TEALE. …you’re just a lad to me, Daniels, and maybe that’s where I’ve been going wrong with you.
TEALE. But you see it’s when I start to think of you as something different from just an ordinary lad that I’ll pack it in. Does that make sense to you?
TEALE. Yeah, I know. My problem (Pause.) Go on take it. Put it in your pocket before your mates come back.
TEALE. See you around them.
SOLLY. All right.
TEALE. Good. I hope so. And stay out of trouble.
Analysis engaged page 176, paragraph 1:
CHRIS: Are you still gonna go out with Jenny Bates now that you’ve left, Solly?
SOLLY: Yeah. Why?
CHRIS: I just wondered that’s all.
Analysis engaged page 176, paragraph 2:
JENNY. But I think I will keep going out with him. I’ve got to stand up to my parents some time, haven’t I?
TRACEY. Well I’m glad I’m not you.
JENNY. I am or else I wouldn’t have Solly.
TRACEY. Oh God. When are you gonna start the family?
The Heart of George Cotton, The Trumpet Talks, and Anatomy of an Ordinance by Richard Durham.
Analysis engaged page 177, paragraph 4:
DAILEY: Shoot it in!
(MUSIC: Sting of the adrenaline needle!)
(SOUND: Heart picks right back up and—)
DAILEY: (After he has listened to it) Good Transfusion set?
NURSE: (Quick) Yes, doctor.
DAILEY: Then let the blood flow into him. There (pause). It’s holding. Give him more—let it go freely!
NURSE: It’s going in. The beat’s picking up.
DAILEY: (With a kind of grim joy) Good assistant—clean the incision—sprinkle sulfa—take off the clamps—sew up the vessels—we’ve won. He’ll make it.
(MUSIC. Heavier with the heartbeat but keep in background under following)
HEART: I—did make it. I, the human heart, a hollow bag the size of your fist. When I was wounded, these are some of the men who first healed me.
HEART: (Bring up the beat full force.)
(MUSIC: In with the beat and tag)
Analysis engaged page 177, paragraphs 5 & 6:
BUNK: Get up there with Oliver’s band—
LOUIS: King Oliver?
BUNK: Yes—the great “King.” Get up there and blow some for ‘em.
LOUIS: (Fading) Will I?
BUNK: Wait. Take my trumpet. Just blow the way you blew across the street—if you’ve got any more left in you.
TRUMPET: (Sotto) He climbed into King Oliver’s bandstand, and he had plenty more left in him. When the band began to play—
(RECORD: Armstrong’s “Lazy River”)
TRUMPET: (Over record) The kid put me to his lips and blew with a phrasing that was peculiar to old New Orleans. When the shouts had died down from the people around…
TRUMPET: King Oliver said—
KING: (Affected) Look kid, when you blow, you sum up all that’s been said around here in a hundred years, and you say it better. I’m going up to Chicago. I want you in the band. Jazz is going north to Memphis, St Louis, Chicago, and from there—everywhere. You’ve got the power and the imagination to go with it—and lead it—believe me. Blow those “West End Blues” wherever you go. You’re the one who can make the trumpet talk—and tell the truth.
(RECORD: Prelude of “West End Blues” up and then as it ends, shift)
TRUMPET: Yes, he was the one who could make me talk—and he did. I’d spoke for the angel Gabriel and had blown taps for the Romans. My voice had been heard in high and low places. But he got out of me tones…
TRUMPET: …I’d never knew were my own. He made the trumpet tell the truth.
(MUSIC: “West End Blues” curtain)
Analysis engaged page 178 paragraphs 1 to 3:
SLUMS: Well I guess you say I ought to be happy cause the Ordinance was defeated 31 to 13. But this Minister Alderman just went back to his Woodlawn AME Church preached another sermon, got some more energy, and went attacking the root causes of the slums all over again. San Francisco heard about his Ordinance. Sent for a copy of it. And adopted it right away.
(Slight fade up doom-laden music and holding under as bed)
Ah, things ain’t bad yet. I’m still spreading and growing. Covering Chicago’s 26 acres with dark stairways, dirty alleys, rundown shacks. Segregating the Blacks away from the Whites, the rich away from the poor. Just doing alright by myself. But I’m worried about guys like this Carey. Suppose he and a lot of other guys got together and agreed to do away with me? I don’t know what would happen to a poor slum like me. What in the world would happen?
(Music fade up and hold)
ANNOUNCER: And now ladies and gentlemen it gives me great pleasure to bring the voice of Archibald Carey himself.
The Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto by Morton Wishingrad.
Analysis engaged page 181, paragraph 7, and page 182, paragraphs 1 & 2:
TEACHER 1. [Gasping]. Isaac Davidson …Isaac … here …in the trench.
NARRATOR. His right arm had been blown off at the elbow. I spoke to him … Let me tie a tourniquet around your arm.
TEACHER 1. Don’t waste the bandage on me. Tell me how it is going.
NARRATOR. We’re still fighting.
TEACHER 1. After thirty-seven days. A few Jews with guns fighting a Nazi army for thirty-seven days.
NARRATOR. The blood ran from the shattered stump and soaked the ground. But he smiled.
TEACHER 1. They are really very foolish. They should have known that the Ghetto would explode.
NARRATOR. They know now.
TEACHER 1. How many did we kill?
NARRATOR. Some say a thousand, some say twelve hundred. [Pause]
The smile lingered on his lips as his eyes began to glaze— and he spoke an epitaph for the Warsaw Ghetto.
TEACHER 1. It is not for thee to complete the work, but neither art thou free to desist from it. Tell them to mark that on our graves.
[Cantor: Singing unaccompanied solo, “El Mole Rachamim,” fade under narration]
VOICE. Hear him with reverence. For he sings a prayer for the dead—twenty-five thousand dead. It is no ordinary prayer and they are not ordinary dead. For they are the dead of the Warsaw Ghetto—in the year nineteen hundred and forty-three. Tonight they sleep in their last trench, their clothes dispersed in ashes, their holy books sodden in the seventh-month rain, the rubble deep on the thresholds of their houses. They were the Jews with guns. Understand that—and hear him with reverence as he chants the prayer. For on the page of their agony they wrote a sentence that shall be an atonement, and it is this: Give me grace and give me dignity and teach me to die; and let my person be a fortress and my wailing wall a stockade, for I have been to Egypt and I am not departed.
[Cantor: Up and finish]
(Barnouw & Wishengrad 1945:44-5)
Companion Website Resources Chapter 10 Page 182
- Additions and Updates for Chapter 10 Ending the Sound Story
- BBC World Service Radio Drama – Play Publications
- Benjamin Zephaniah Radio Plays
- Cecil Lewis and Radio Plays
- BBC World Service African Plays 1973
- German Radio Plays hörspiel and the Avant Garde
- Columbia Workshop and Radio Drama
- D G Bridson and Radio Plays
- Dylan Thomas Under Milk Wood and Radio Drama
- European Radio Drama