Written by Edna Truong.
My tutor asked, “has anyone heard a radio drama before?” The room was hushed, eyes darted left and right, then downwards. Only a handful nodded their heads. I sat with my eyes wide open, eager for the tutor to explain further. Of course, I belonged to the majority of those puzzled, staring students who did not know a jot about what that question meant. The tutor smiled, almost mischievously, and nodded knowingly, like he had expected our reactions. He talked about the decline of radio and its potential for growth in the creative industry. He pulled out a neatly stapled wedge of paper.
“Our next assignment will be to write a radio drama script. I’ll play a few as examples.” For the next ten minutes or so we sat in our seats and listened. One of them was a fictional story set in ancient Samarkand. I was truly and utterly intrigued. Laugh if you like, but I’d never come across anything like this before. I hadn’t even known radio dramas existed up till then. I screamed in my head: What have I been missing out on?
That was three years ago.
Regrettably, I didn’t have much to do with radio since then, but the platform was never far from my mind. I filed this memory away and took it out from time to time, thinking of ways I could improve my writing skills and that first script I’d written.
As an aspiring fantasy writer, I was more at home with the novelistic way of forming my words, meaning I threw visual descriptions left right and centre. This was totally useless when it came to writing a radio drama. I always had to remind myself to focus on sounds in all my script directions; or rather, the audience needed to see with their ears. It wasn’t exactly an easy task, but I enjoyed the writing experience nonetheless.
Creating characters to hate and to love through dialogue, while slowly pulling the audience deeper into the story with a strategic use of sound. That was probably what fascinated me the most with radio drama scripting. I liked to experiment with words, with perspectives and ideas. I found that it was possible in writing for radio as well.
I felt that there was so much potential in writing in this form, I didn’t even know where to start. What I did want to do was something different and I was rather inclined to writing fantasy anyway. It didn’t take me long to get into the flow, once I’d pinned down the basics and sketched out a rough storyline. Dialogue wise, I found it easy if I slipped into my character and tried to be in the moment. Still, there were times when I felt that the dialogue was a bit off the mark. I had wanted my characters to become more alive. I thought I could imagine where they lived, what they wore and even who their family and friends were. I wanted to create the best stage for my characters with the best props. Still, my writerly instincts blared, but I could not for the life of me figure out what was out of place. I resolved that I’d go back and fix it, one day.
For some reason or another, I had occupied myself with other things and neglected my writing. Forgetting the thrill that comes from creating a piece to be proud of. Forgetting that I’d had so much fun writing that the characters seemed to live in my mind and I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I eventually forgot the excitement of finding a new challenge to pit myself against. Why, you ask? Why did I forget? I’m a bit ashamed to say, but largely it was procrastination and lack of self-discipline. Self-doubt too. Though, ultimately, it was probably because I had lost sight of my goals, my reason to write and my dreams.
If I hadn’t reconnected myself at the recent writers’ festival I had attended, or heard such an amazing radio drama performed there, I probably would not have thought any deeper about this form. It inspired me to experiment again, learn more about writing for radio and possibly looking at expanding on the short script I’d started three years ago. Perhaps I will fall back on my preferred form of storytelling, converting the piece into novel or whatnot. I had been infected with the positive buzz from the festival and being around like minded people bolstered my confidence. The creaking cogs began to stir and gain momentum, but I had to keep them well-oiled from now.
Don’t give up, keep moving forward, I tell myself. Go on and improve, grow, and create good art, I say. Show me what you can do, ol’ girl!