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From diary to drama

Updated Wednesday, 25th February 2009

So, you've found your diaries - but how do you turn them into a radio programme? Vanessa Rosenthal explains the process from diary to drama.

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George Cole and Gladys Henson in a 1954 BBC drama

It is difficult to define what makes a good diary or collection of letters for dramatisation but first of all the writer must have a keen eye for their own world and the people around them and at least an awareness of the bigger picture beyond that world in terms of the history they are living through.

This doesn't mean that the writing needs to be political but it does need to provide a tapestry of the social life and mores of their time if we are to find it interesting.

References to journeys taken, house furnishings bought, meals eaten, prices paid for goods and services, work undertaken, the treatment of illness - all make endlessly fascinating material.

In the forefront the diary or letters must chronicle some events, some action, whether national or local, that will take the audience forwards. In the action is the drama.

Alongside this, if the writer has a definite view on the world, or a particular goal in life - an inner journey - the drama will be all the richer.

What fascinates is the correspondent's voice speaking to us over time. In addition if the letters describe a particular story they immediately speak to us: stories from the soldier to his lover in the First World War; the homesick schoolgirl in her first term at boarding school; the newly arrived immigrant.

In any dramatisation the diaries or letters are not going to do all the work. You will need short scenes to link events and fill in chronology and this can only be done confidently through total immersion in your chosen writer's world - to the point where you can invent a line of dialogue as they might really have spoken it.


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