Tag Archives: BBC

Tips for creative writing in radio

Before Easter some of the University of Lincoln’s journalism students were treated to a talk from Harry Youtt, who teaches creative writing at UCLA, about how to write creatively for radio. Here’s my notes from the talk.

To get an idea of what works on the radio it’s good to listen to other examples of fascinating radio. Harry Youtt is based in Los Angeles and he says as an outsider the US is jealous of the BBC. There’s such a variety and scope of documentaries and programmes on BBC radio that are interesting listens.

The only equivalent in the US, Harry Youtt says, is This American Life presented by Ira Glass. The hour-long show covers a variety of topics and each week’s show has a theme but predominantly the show explores human nature.

A good way to approach creative writing for radio is to think about the perfect listener. They are already interested in your programme topic — do you think they will enjoy it all and continue listening? Is your story worth telling?

Think about your top lines — this is how you draw your listener in so start somewhere that matters and shape the rest of your piece around that. Also consider centring your topic on an individual because people identify with other people’s difficulties and challenges easily.

Let others do the hard work for you. Characters speak for themselves so let your interviewees speak and not you speak on their behalf. It will mean more coming from them and leave the presenter to narrate the story.

It’s a cliche but Harry Youtt says “Actions speak louder than words” and radio gives you the perfect opportunity to be creative with this statement. You could just talk to someone about an event, or you could go to the event and get involved remembering to record interesting sounds as you go along. Then it’s not just a chat but actually getting the listener involved.

Interview techniques are also key to good radio. When it comes to programme making this means going beyond just what questions you are going to ask because you want to be able to use all parts of the conversation. Interviewees need to feel comfortable and you can take the time to get good answers.

For news bulletins in radio you need to act quickly so you can ask the difficult and daunting questions first and these questions are likely to be asked to people who are being held to account, so they expect it. If you are making a programme then you are more likely to be chatting to someone who has a story to tell which will take time to get out of them. It doesn’t mean you have to use those first easy questions and you can change the order of the answers to suit how you tell the story.

Harry Youtt has some good techniques to help with interviews including remember to look at people’s faces when you are interviewing them, as it helps to get more of idea of how they are feeling. Also research is always a good idea and sometimes it pays off to do extra research to help you out.

Essentially the best pieces of radio you will create are about topics that you are emotionally interested in. Make a list of the stories you want to tell and rank them in order, now you know what you want to report on.

Hollywood’s hunger

Paul Hollywood likes to stare. It’s a wonder he manages to make any bread in between all the staring. Yet he does, and he now has his own BBC cookery show to tell us how to make bread too.

Paul Hollywood's bread | Photo: BBC

Each week Hollywood offers up a different slice of bread history and culture. In the first episode Hollywood explored the bread classics: bloomers, ploughman’s and malt loaf. He occasionally flirts with meat and cake recipes, but the series is predominantly, as the title suggests, about bread.

This week his focus was on flat breads. They might be really interesting but it looks like making them will be more effort and hard work than my little kitchen could handle. He started by visiting different restaurant kitchens to learn how to make impressive looking flat breads.

It was all very educational but then Hollywood began to act like he was in his own episode of “The Generation Game” all about bread. He would see the experts doing it and then decide that he could do it better. Annoyingly Hollywood didn’t end up plating up some rubbish, like Generation Game contestants normally would.

Hollywood has landed this series after showing off his baking skills on “The Great British Bake Off”, playing the bad guy to Mary Berry’s comforting figure. Innocently it makes sense that Hollywood, a keen and knowledgeable baker, wants to get the nation making their own bread, as he says: “I can’t just be beaten by a piece of dough, it ain’t going to happen.”

Not so innocently, the Hollywood stare seems to have caught some people’s attention. Nicknamed the ‘Silver Fox’ he seems to be a bit of a sex symbol. Looks aside, he does end up playing up to his reputation. He likes to get his hands messy, demonstrating how he likes to use his hand as a mixer. He also started to pound his dough roughly against the table, instead of just rolling out his flat breads. He isn’t doing himself any favours.

The important test for any cookery show is does it make people want to cook. Hollywood surely knows that he has a battle on his hands. Any person watching a heavenly chocolate cake being made on the telly would surely try making it themselves? You show someone how to do meat, potatoes and veg a bit differently then someone will give it a go. But even if you show how amazing it is to make your own bread, then almost everyone will say: “That’s nice but it costs about £1 in the shop.”

However, he does make it look simple and that’s encouraging. Make your own judgement and watch “Bread” on BBC iPlayer.