Tip of the week 2017-07-05: Storytelling part 3 (characterisation)

Think about your characters’ real lives, and put words in their mouths that they might actually say.



Dara: (impatient) Namfon, what’s holding you up?  Come on! You’ll be late for school, and I’ll be late to the market.  You know most of my customers come first thing in the morning!”


Namfon: Huh?  Oh…okay nanna.  I’m coming…just let me… (MUFFLED)…finish this….

Dara (shouts): NAMFON!


Namfon: I’m here…I’m here….

It’s all about the storyline, right? The characters don’t matter so much.

Hmm…actually, they do.  A story can’t exist unless you have characters to carry the plot (storyline).  And, if your characters are not well-developed, the story won’t sound convincing.

Characters have to be entertaining, but also suitable for the role they’re playing in the story, and the purpose you have a story in the first place.  Here are some tips for developing the personalities of characters in your stories:

  1. Make them believable. All radio drama characters need to have a dominant personality trait that helps to make them who they are, and makes their dialogue in the story more realistic.  It is the personality traits that often trigger the action in a drama (for example, the father’s pride and ambition may be the thing that drives his son to rebel).  Establish the dominant personality trait of your main character early in the story—not by mentioning it, but by showing it in the things the character says and does.
  2. Choose characters that suit the message in your story. Don’t choose an accountant for the main character if your story is about a fishing village!  Unless, perhaps, the accountant is a villain who wants to sell the fishermen’s land to a hotel developer…or a hero who has come to protect them from the evil governor!
  3. Make sure your characters match your audience demographics. If your audience is lower-middle socio-economic bracket, they may not appreciate a story full of expensive computers and smartphones.
  4. Keep things interesting. Make your different characters…well…different.  From each other.  This includes not only personality types (one is pessimistic, another is lighthearted), but if your story is a multi-voiced drama, make sure your talents have voices that sound distinct and different from each other, so listeners can easily tell who is speaking as the story develops.
  5. Don’t have too many characters. If you have sub-plots, keep to a maximum of 3 or 4 characters in the main plot, and let other people come in now and then as the sub-plots open. This makes it easier for listeners to remember who is who.
  6. Write out a profile of each character: their age, sex, marital status, education, present job, and personality. Keep these nearby as you begin to write your story, so you remember how each person is different from the others, and can bring them to life in a natural way as your story unfolds.

There’s a lot more to characterisation in radio storytelling, but these few points should get you started in the right direction.  If you’d like to learn more about this topic, I recommend Esta de Fossard’s “How to Write a Radio Serial Drama for Social Development: A Script Writer’s Manual,” published by Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (1996).

Happy broadcasting,

Janice Reid

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: Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

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