Description - added words in the dialogue to fill in what is 'blind' for the listener

"There You Are On The Sofa With Your Box Of Chocolates, Irene" Rule

Example from BBC soap, 'The Archers':


PAT: (approaching) Still digging the carrots, Tony?

 DESCRIPTION - mostly of physical details, facial expressions, gestures and bodily action. See BELOW for examples.

 SCRIPTING - demands skill - must not be obstrusive or clunky - a test of the playwright

 Often needed at the start of a scene - part of SIGNPOSTING. Some scenes and action demand more DESCRIPTION.

 SCRIPT also as the NARRATOR 'voice in the mind' - Interiorizing - the voice in the mind - (technique) POSITION ONE - fully private and subjective - telling secrets

 The 'added extra' in radio drama - what this medium demands as an aural-only, 'blind' medium.

DESCRIPTION + CONTRADICTION of what the character says. Kind words, for example, hiding suspicion, or politeness masking fear. Often in TV thrillers and police interrogation scenes, where hidden motives lurk. DESCRIPTION cuts through to the listener and opens out the psychological contradiction.

 DESCRIPTION does the work of the TV / film camera searching out revealing changes in the character's face.

Wally K Daly, 'What's Stigmata?' - the stupid character, the deaf father, has others constantly describe what is happening to him.

'The Kingston File' - an exciting police thriller scene, the girl in the police car describes the house siege down the hand-held police car microphone to headquarters officers.

'Citizens' (BBC R4 soap) 1988-08-25 - Mike: 'Come and sit down on a king-size bed' (Mike to Anita beginning their affair.)

Les Smith, 'Some Kind of Hero' (BBC Radio 4) 1986-01-20 - 'And when you turn your back like this, when you refuse to talk - '

How to use DESCRIPTION with Reverberation (echo)

Description is a term invented by Alan Beck - and is not established as a term in professional radio drama production.

See 'mise-en-scène' - representation of the play scene, locations, spaces and perspectives

Description and the 'silent character'
There is a particular technical problem for the playwright, in supplying description if one of the characters is significantly silent. The other characters have to supply description of the character's reactions, whether these are uttered in paralanguage or not. (See Paralinguistic analysis.)

Anthony Minghella, in 'Cigarettes and Chocolate', constructed a radio play out of this central situation, the need for description. The female protagonist stays silent till her finale monologue.

For most of the play, there is a vivid interactive 'dialogue' with her. It is created by continuous description, coming from her lover and from her friends. The irony is, of course, that they misread her physical signals. Then the radio listeners, who do not have direct access to these, are let into the truth about her - her own direct monologue to them.



LORNA: ............ well, I wanted to say sorry
what are you thinking?
what are you thinking?
do you want me to go?
to tell you the absolute truth, for the past ten minutes I've wanted to slap your face


Gemma's flat. The Garden. Morning. No music.
GEMMA: When you stop speaking, it's like stopping eating. The first day there's something thrilling, and new, before the pain begins. The pain where you want to give up, where you can think of nothing else.
Then the second day, you feel wretched, the third delirious, and then suddenly there's no appetite, it shrinks, it shrinks, until the
prospect of speaking, the thought of words retching from the mouth, how ugly and gross it seems.
Nothing changes. ...................................Don't speak for a day and then start looking.
The senses are sharp. Look at the world about its business. The snarl. The roar. Skin stretched over the teeth. The madness.
The law is frightened of silence. It has words for the defendant who becomes mute. The wrath of God. Mute by malice. But it's not silence which is the punishment. Words. WORDS are the punishment.
The silence. A silence.
last year it was cigarettes, the year before chocolate but this is the best (END)

Comments on description
BIBLIOGRAPHY - Radio Drama - Sound - Film Sound

Rodger, RADIO DRAMA (1982) 10:
Directions as to movement and scene changes must be mostly contained within the dialogue but they must never be so obvious as to become laughable. It is also easily said that radio creates its own scenery but this observation neglects the fact that such creation is in the hands of the writer.

Ditto 151:
(Of music and sound effects) They can usually only succeed when they are cued by verbal hints and allusions. The hinge relating music and effects to the dialogue is verbal; it must be so written as not to appear too obvious and the words employed must be rational and cogent.

If any sound effect is essential, then the dialogue must either point forward to it or refer back to it. This sounds both elementary and clumsy. And that it should not appear clumsy to either is one of the many tricks which the radio playwright must make it his business to master.

(Of sound effects) Their value, and even their identity, depend on what is established about them in the dialogue or narrative. Imagine you hear a liquid being poured into a glass: it is whisky, or brandy, or water, or medicine, according to what the dialogue has led you to expect. Or the identification may come after the sound.

Felton, Felix, 1949, The Radio-play: its techniques and possibilities, London: Sylvan Press.

(He describes this description as part of the "self-contained method".) 58:
Better still indicate action in the dialogue, then reinforce that spoken indication by sound-effects. Here again, crudity must be avoided. It is not so difficult as it might seem, to give these indications, but they must be given naturally, or at least so artistically that they seem natural.

(This is the first book on the technique of radio drama).

BIBLIOGRAPHY - Radio Drama - Sound - Film Sound


Continuing through this site: establish presence and  scene boundaries

Setting the scene

 establish presence 

 scene boundaries

  scene boundaries - more

 sound centre and   Point of listening = POL

 To index

Structuring the plot




    closure (ending)

   use a 'mystery'


 To index





This site is 'Radio Drama - directing, acting, technical, learning & teaching, researching, styles, genres'. See INDEX to navigate also.  Complete curriculum of scripts, techniques (acting & directing & post-production & genre styles), advice, sound files - effects and atmoses (with no copyright and so free to use), detailed script commentaries, etc.


Academic material on this site is Creative Commons License Alan Beck is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

Learn about radio drama on this site along with my book - Beck, Alan, Radio Acting, London: A & C Black ISBN 0-7136-4631-4 Available on Amazon. CLICK HERE.

To the WELCOME PAGE for Alan Beck's sites. See more of Alan Beck's work.


Any opinions expressed in this site are the personal opinions of the owner of the site. IF YOU HAVE COMMENTS, PLEASE EMAIL TO :


Check here for radio and concerning description
Secure SFTP on the planet FREE Go FTP Software