Do you like old radio? I do. I love to listen to what was entertainment before Philo T. Farnsworth turned on his brain and invented the television.
I was letting my computer randomize songs and one of these old shows came on. It happened to be “The Fat Man” from 1946. This character was one of Daishell Hammett’s creations. If you don’t know, Daishell Hammett pretty much created the hard boiled detective noir genre. The Maltese Falcon, and Sam Spade were his, as were many other entries in Black Mask Magazine and several old radio shows. If you like Dead Med Don’t Wear Plaid, think Daishell Hammett.
Listening to this show, I realized how far entertainment has come whether for good or bad. In today’s world, there is so much visual and so many things that can be done with special effects that the writing does not have to be very descriptive in relation to old radio. A director can add or subtract elements to fit what he wants to show and our imagination doesn’t need to work.
In the “old” days, with radio everything had to be presented by the actors, for the imaginations of the masses. “Theater of the Mind” was bandied about and it truly was. Writers had to put enough information into their stories that the dialogue and some primitive sound effects could immerse a listener into the world of the writers imagination.
I have come to realize that this most basic lesson of writing is still one of the most important. Paint the word picture, there are no special effects for books. Maybe in the future the Kindle will have smells and sounds come out of it but not today. It is my job as a writer to make you the reader see inside my head.
I have had some difficulty learning this in the past. I can see my world why can’t you? Of course the pirates are coming up the hill on the road from the town. Oh did I forget to mention the town or the hill in the first draft? Umm, Yea. I have learned much from the old radio writers about descriptions and dialogue that paints a scene.
If you need something different to listen to, head to the library and look for the books on cd section. They have a section in there with old radio shows. Start with War of the Worlds and get into The Shadow, The Fat Man and anything with Arch Obler like Lights Out. Suspense is a great one too, many starring Vincent Price.
Good luck getting back to the classics