Week eight study diary – Advanced Creative Writing
This week’s subject was radio drama. We studied a radio play – Smooth Apparatus and how sound effects might be weaponised in drama. The importance of contrast in voices was reiterated. Different voices, accents, idioms and idiolects are the only way a listener has of telling characters apart on radio.
Other radio plays I studied this week included - “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury, and “Sunday Morning at the Centre of the World” by Louis de Bernieres. These two contrasted greatly with each other. The first was full of action and dialogue whereas the second was more poetic and had voices in the foreground and background, including talking sparrows and cats.
Listeners construct sets and locations and the appearance of characters in their minds, the only tools the writer has at their disposal to guide this are voices – monologues, dialogue and background voices, plus sound effects to establish a sense of place. As with stage plays we were warned not to overwrite sound effects, and to be careful, especially when writing monologues, to avoid too explicit exposition and to vary the rhythm to avoid boring the listener. The only way to establish a characters presence in a scene using radio is for them to speak or be referred to by another character.
Writing for radio is about condensing both timeline and number of characters. The strength of radio is that scenes and locations can change very quickly without huge expense or effort.
The intimate monologue is a voice directed to the ear of the listener, rather than another character. It is the radio version of a first person narrative in prose. As a writer it is important to decide which characters are allowed to speak to the listener, establish this early on in the play and be consistent. It is vital that internal monologues are dramatic and contain contrast. Some tools for this are to include the voices of others in the monologue, using “he said...” “she said...” and structure it as though the speaker is addressing the listener by using “you see” or “do you understand”, i.e. the second person. Speeches of this kind should reveal an internal debate and should move the action forward. Telephone calls can be particularly effective on radio although they are often awkward on stage or in film.
One activity was to write an intimate monologue on the subject of lost love using an interrogative voice. This is what I came up with:
Lisa: Thank you for meeting me. You don’t mind, do you? Are you busy? Are you in a rush? What’s that? Water, huh. You don’t mind that I’m talking to you about Brenda, do you? I mean you’re not going to get offended or share what I say with your other friends, right? I need to know this is confidential. It is, isn’t it? I mean, if I tell you why I’m upset, it won’t become the latest gossip, will it? Can I trust you? Are you sure? Okay then. Are you ready? Do you want a coffee or something first? They make a great latte here. Have you tried it? You’re okay with just water, are you? Are you sure? Are you dehydrated? Heavy night last night? No? Okay. Well you know Brenda, don’t you? Five foot four, red hair, green eyes. You do? Have you noticed how quiet she’s been recently? You haven’t? Oh. Do you think she’s just avoiding me? She might be. Well, do you remember that party last week? No, the one on Saturday at John’s, remember? What was it Brenda was wearing? A white dress, right? You don’t remember? I thought she looked beautiful, didn’t you? I just stared. I could hardly breathe. Do you know what I mean? So, I went up to her. She was with that fella. What was he called again? Derek. His eyes were too small. They were, weren’t they? Like a pig. She seemed glad I interrupted them. I think she was. Did she say anything to you about it? It was as though I was seeing Brenda for the first time. Have you ever felt like that? When she left with old piggy-eyes, you know the one I mean, don’t you, it was a slap in the face. I told her (pause) She said I was drunk (pause) I wasn’t drunk, was I? How many glasses of wine did I have? Only a couple, right? I was just tongue-tied, know what I mean? She said I didn’t know what I was saying. And now she’s avoiding me. Has she said anything? To you, I mean. Has she said anything to you, about me?
Not a work of art, admittedly, but fun and good practice.
I also had a go at writing a radio play (or at least the first few scenes of one) based on my vampire novella “Basement Beauty”. I think I may have overwritten some of the sound effects, and if I develop this further I will remove some of these. I will also need to tone down the language of the original text as swearing is rarely if ever used on radio, or so I’ve been told.
Fade up interior Glasgow bar. Glasses clinking, low level chatting and laughter.
Lynsey: You’re too beautiful to be killed, Tay.
Amalthea: What do you mean?
Lynsey: Dinnae you hear? All the victims were ugly. Nae gonna happen to you, hen.
Lynsey: Aye, nae grotesque freaks, just plain ugly: big noses, crooked teeth, greasy hair, ken? I went to the dentist this morn and they told me everyone and their f-in dog’s booked in for cosmetic work.
Amalthea: Isn’t that odd?
Lynsey: Dinnae ken.
Amalthea: I think it’s odd.
Lynsey: Whatever, girl. Just stop stressin, okay. You’re too beautiful to die.
Amalthea: Seems quiet tonight.
Lynsey: It’s still early. Cover for me while I pop out?
Amalthea: I think I’ll manage.
Lynsey: Cheers, love.
Sound of glasses being wiped and put away.
Daniel: Coffee, please. (pause) Seems quiet.
Amalthea: Yeah. So what brings you here tonight? I normally just see you on poetry nights.
Daniel: You notice?
Amalthea: (uncomfortable pause.) Sure. I know all my regulars. (pause) Do you write poetry?
Daniel: I’m not sure it’s any good.
Amalthea: You should perform a piece. They’re a friendly crowd. They won’t bite.
Daniel: I’m Daniel.
Amalthea: Amalthea, or Tay.
Daniel: Delighted to make your acquaintance, Taya. Do you work here every night?
Sounds of coffee machine.
Daniel: What do you do when you’re not here?
Amalthea: I read English at the Uni.
Scrape of stool as Daniel moves away.
Lynsey: Did I miss anything?
Amalthea: We have a new customer.
Lynsey: Seen him before. Bit of an oddball. Always alone.
Amalthea: Maybe that’s the way he likes it.
Fade out bar noises, fade up street noises, traffic and wind. Amalthea’s laboured breathing.
Amalthea: (narrating) Glasgow, two a.m. It’s cold. What was that? Nothing – no ghoul, goblin, animal or serial killer skulking in the darkness, waiting for me to leave. It’s natural to be worried. For six weeks the evening news has revelled in the horror of unnatural death. Modern-day Jack the Ripper, they say. Now every alleyway is hostile territory and every shadow a killer, preparing to strike.
Teeth chattering and tentative footsteps that build speed as Amalthea walks away from the bar, alone. Traffic gets louder. Drunken shouts. The hiss of gentle rain. Splash of puddles. Squelch of water in Amalthea’s boots.
Amalthea: (narrating) Should I have told Lynsey? I tried, didn’t I? Too beautiful! (snorts) I wonder whether the other victims knew they were being hunted. Did they stay silent, afraid of being thought paranoid? Or were they disbelieved until the moment their vacated shells were discovered? Stop looking back. There’s no one there.
Shriek of a baby or cat. Rustling of leaves. Footsteps stop.
Amalthea: (narrating) It’s nothing. Keep moving. Come on foot, lift and fall. Bend that knee. You’re getting soaked. (pause) Just walk, Tay. (pause) five minutes. Five short minutes and you’ll be home. You’re irrational. No one is hunting you. Take the main road if you need to. Five minutes. No distance at all. Yet one step feels beyond my reach. (in Patois, mimicking mother) Get a grip. You is fierce. A powerful woman. This shit beneath you, Amalthea.
Heavy rainfall. Two sets of footsteps.
Amalthea: Almost home. Don’t look back.
Climbing steps, opening door, shutting door, wooden stairs, another door, locks and bolts. Breathes heavily but relieved. Kettle then shower noises. Fade out.
Fade in bar noises.
Lynsey: I heard there was another one last night.
Amalthea: Another murder? Does that make thirteen.
Lynsey: Aye, and they still dinnae have a clue who’s doing it. Is my make-up okay?
Amalthea: You look fine.
Lynsey: I wonder whether they all thought that. (pause) I know I could do with losing a few pounds. Stop sneering Tay. The latest’s another woman. Eight women and five men. Do you think he prefers women? (beat) Don’t walk home alone tonight. Promise me.
Amalthea: You said I was too beautiful to die.
Lynsey: Just in case. The city is terrified. Vigilante groups on the streets. Police cannae do anything. It’s going to be really bad. I can feel it in my stomach.
Amalthea: I can’t afford a taxi.
Lysney: I’ll stay later. Give you a lift.
Amalthea: What about your kids?
Lynsey: I can be late for one night.
Amalthea: And tomorrow, and the day after that.
Lynsey: Maybe they’ll catch him.
Amalthea: You think?
Lynsey: No, but one day at a time. Stay alive today and let tomorrow take care of itself. (pause) I don’t want to walk to the car park alone.
Amalthea: Sure. It’d be great if you dropped me home tonight. I’d feel much safer.
Lynsey: Thanks, hen. (pause) Do you think they’ll set a curfew?
Amalthea: What? The police? Shit, I hope not. How will I pay rent?
Sound of fingernails being chewed.
Lynsey: Dammit. I’ve chipped my nail polish.
Fade out voices of bar patrons. Fade in sounds of glasses being stacked and tills being emptied. Door locked.
Lynsey: Your carriage awaits, Ma’am.
Two sets of footsteps hurry. Rain falls. Car doors being opened. Ignition.
Amalthea: Thanks for the lift.
Lynsey: Thanks for walking me to the car.
Manual gear shift, revs, sound of old car engine. Pop music on radio. Fade out.
Gareth: This was left for you.
Amalthea: Who’s it from?
Gareth: Damned if I know. It was in the letterbox this morning. Open it and find out. (beat) Not going to share your secret with me?
Amalthea: Not this time.
Gareth: Oh Lynsey phoned. Kid’s sick. I’d stay but I have a thing later. Will you be okay? Jamie and Steve will be in at ten.
Amalthea: We’ll manage.
Gareth: Don’t stress about tidying up. Just cash up and get your ass home.
Amalthea: Will do.
Amalthea: (whispers) Meet me Friday, at eleven. The Arches.
Gareth: What does it say?
Fade up, sounds of busy bar and mellow rock music.
Amalthea: (narrating) At least it isn’t ear-splitting punk tonight. Some Fridays I wish I could wear ear-plugs. Can’t hear the orders though. Walking home with ears ringing in a tone I’ll never hear again, not my idea of a good time. One day I’ll leave. That’ll show him. Or Gareth will just hire another student willing to do all the crappy jobs for minimum wage. Eleven-twenty. I wouldn’t have gone anyway. Meeting a stranger in a quiet street is less fun than letting punk destroy your hearing.
Glass being put on rack. Fade out bar sounds. Quiet room. Voice echoes as if room empty with stone walls. Sound of someone eating messily. Thud of heavy metal chain again stone floor.
Daniel: Remember when I met you, Emily? You were a magnificent dancer. Graceful. Where are those qualities now? (pause) Maybe she’s the one, Taya. (beat) Would you like a new playmate, Emily?
Emily: I want to go home. Please, let me go home.
Daniel: You know I can’t do that.
Emily: Then kill me. Drain me.
Daniel: I won’t drink from you, Emily.
Emily: Why? I know what you are (beat) What you do. I know what you want.
Daniel: You’re wrong. That isn’t what I want. (beat) I will never hurt you. I promise. I love you.
Emily: You call this love?
Daniel: I do love you. I wish you could see that.
Sounds of exhausted sleep, a woman snoring gently. A soft kiss.
Daniel: (narrating) When we were first courting (beat) what conversations! How can loving a mind as fine as yours be wrong? Why does every relationship with a human end like this – a chained, half-starved body in the basement? Potential never fulfilled. Love never returned. The flame of desire extinguished before it has time to light the shadows of my soul. Perhaps Amalthea will be different. She’s strong, exciting, dominant and confident. She might be the one person in the whole filthy world able to heal me. Help me show my family that a human is worth loving. Poetry, that’s how I’ll woo her. Human women fall in love so easily with language. The right words whispered send shivers of pleasure across flesh. How in touch with their longing humans are. Is that why their lives are so short? If they lived for hundreds of years the impact they’d have on the world and each other would be immeasurable. Vampires achieve little of note – where are our DaVincis and Shakespeares? Longevity is a curse, delaying every action for want of a sense of urgency. There is no need to create something to outlive you when you expect to live forever.