Before I begin, a brief example of the magic of Twitter. Earlier today, I tweeted…
Moments later, my buddy Paul Montgomery, AKA @fuzzytypewriter, AKA the new voice of the Sentinel in Whiz!Bam!Pow!‘s Adventures of the Sentinel radio show swooped in and said…
And here we are.
Whiz!Bam!Pow! has been the best writing exercise I could ask for, running the gamut from completely visual writing with Whiz!Bam!Pow! Comics #7 to audio and visual writing with the various films and serials that make up the “moving pictures” element, to completely aural-based with The Adventures of the Sentinel radio show. As I write this, I’m writing the radio show episodes (three total), and am finding it a remarkable crash course in a new (to me) form of writing that is as exciting as it is challenging.
After initially airing operas and comedies in the 1920s, radio reached the peak of its popularity and artistry in the 1930s, most notably with Orson Welles’ infamous, pandemonium-inciting 1938 broadcast of The War of the Worlds (a listing of many Mercury Theatre broadcasts can be found here – War of the Worlds may be downloaded from this location as well), radio eventually fell out of favor in the 1950s with the advent of television and other distractions.
It’s unfortunate that the radio drama form has largely been relegated to a niche amusement, because in the form, I (and many others) have found something that combines the best elements of printed word with sound and communication. It is a form that relies on the audience’s imagination to fill in the “missing pieces” and complete the picture in front of them.
It’s also a hell of a lot of fun to write – and challenging. Here’s a few issues I’ve already run into – and how I’m fixing them:
Tell. Don’t Show. But Don’t *JUST* Tell Either.
The single biggest change. While exposition has to be handled as adeptly as any form, it has to be handled differently. How do you establish location? In a film, you could just show you’re in a newsroom. In radio, you have to think sounds – typewriters, hustle-bustle (how do you create that sound?), telephones, footsteps, creaking chairs – pieced together in a way that it gives the listener enough to visualize the picture, but not too much so that you limit imagination. Restraint is key – how much can you leave out and still paint the picture with sound?
When I tell a story in moving pictures, I adhere to the Alfred Hitchcock method – “a script is complete once the action is written and the dialogue added.” Show, don’t tell – and most importantly, don’t tell through dialogue.
In radio, it’s a whole different story. There is telling through dialogue (especially in many of the great mystery/comic radio shows like The Adventures of Superman, The Green Hornet, and The Shadow), and it can get clunky. Again, I tend to rely on the mental image created with sound effects and have the dialogue supplement that – while always erring on the side of clarity.
It’s worth noting that the newsroom interplay so identified with Superman came from the radio show (Jimmy Olsen was created for the radio show) – and there’s some wonderful back-and-forth in there.
How Do You “Show” Action?
This can be done through a combination of dialogue and sound effects (like in any number of Superman radio shows)…
“Ha! That tickles!”
“What the -you’re not human!”
While that may work well, there are some wonderfully hilarious moments in the Adventures of Superman radio show where Superman’s flying is represented by Bud Colyer exclaiming, “Up! Up!… Down! Faster! Down!”
There are many ways the mind’s eye can represent that one.
Another notable Superman fact – the “Up, up, and away!” line came from the show… but only after trying the “Up! Up! … Down! Down! Faster!” method and realizing it was sorta clunky.
This experience has been as gratifying as it has been challenging. I’ve relished the chance to dive into the history of 20th century storytelling while at the same time, educating myself in a new medium and maintaining what makes each media form unique (usually switching between comics, radio, and film within the space of a day) can be a bit of a challenge. That said, the music composer and percussionist in me is salivating at the chance to create new sound effects and textures as this project races closer and closer to execution.
The thing I love the most about radio drama is the feeling of constant experimentation with both how to tell a story, and what types of stories could be told. While Welles’ War of the Worlds deftly uses the medium like none other, it’s only one way to tell it. Radio drama may be viewed as a bygone piece of entertainment history, but I find it much less limiting than film or television. It gives the creator the freedom of a novelist to craft imagery through audio in a way that showing something on a screen cannot compete with.
One more thing – while The Adventures of the Sentinel will be pieced together and assembled in editing, most radio dramas were performed LIVE. Maybe someday we’ll do a live recording of the Sentinel show – the West Coast version. I’ll leave it up to you to learn the infamy of West Coast broadcasts.
I’m sure as I progress with the scripts, I’ll have more insight to share, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Oh, and just wait until you hear FuzzyTyperwriter as the Sentinel… it’s going to be AWESOME.