Writing for television, radio or video requires a different set of skills than writing text. Clear and condensed writing is key. After all, a radio listener or TV viewer can't go back and re-read a sentence.
To improve your broadcast writing, multimedia producer Jehangir Irani recommends that you open a major newspaper, pick any news article, and try reading the first paragraph aloud.
You'll probably find that "it’s long and dry," he says, "and you’ll run out of breath before finishing it."
To help you hone your broadcast writing skills, IJNet recently spoke to Irani and media trainer Estel Dillon. Here are their key tips:
Write like you speak: Write in your own voice, in a conversational tone, as if you’re speaking to only one listener. Keep sentences short. If you have a long sentence, follow it up with a short one. When you go back and read your narration aloud, do you truly sound like yourself?
Keep it simple: Allot a sentence to each idea. Be clear and concise, stick to the story and don't try too hard to be "clever." Too much detail can become irrelevant and make the story lose focus. Avoid most multiple-syllable words, words that are tough to pronounce and long, convoluted sentences. "Treasure small words," Dillon says.
Provide specificity: Although the goal is to write clearly, you must also avoid being too general. Dillon says reporters should provide context for anything that may cause confusion or "raise eyebrows." When describing people, don't label them. Tell exactly what they do as opposed to using their official title.
Tell stories in a logical order: Make sure that your content has a beginning, a middle and an ending. Don't bury the lead; state the news near the top, without too much buildup.
Use the present tense and active voice: You're writing for flow and to express what is going on now. Broadcast strives for immediacy. To convey this to the listener, use the active voice whenever possible. In English, try to use a subject-verb-object sentence structure. For example: "Police (subject) have arrested (verb) 21 activists (object) for staging a protest at Merlion Park on Saturday afternoon."
Write to the pictures: TV and video audiences will see why something happened. In television, the phrase “write to tape” is used to describe the way a story script is built around the visual images you have gathered. Don't write any longer than the story or pictures warrant.
Use imagery: Radio audiences need to imagine the people, places and things in your story. With your words, create powerful and straightforward imagery. Use descriptive verbs instead of adjectives. For example, if you say “he struts or saunters” you’re giving a picture without using an adjective. But don't let vivid, imagery-rich writing turn verbose. Use words sparingly.
- Let the speaker speak: If you’re hosting a show or an interview, be the host. Don't overpower the subject of the story. When interviewing, "Don’t 'mm hmm' them and don't keep talking and talking about yourself," Irani says. "You’re just a conduit whose job it is to relay a story/experience/emotion from the guest to the audience."
Image courtesy of Flickr, through a Creative Commons license.
Jessica Weiss is a Buenos Aires-based writer.