05-26-18 – Blog Queen - Sarah Raplee

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Writing Descriptive Narrative for Visually Impaired Viewers

By Ruth Barrett

My background is in theatre. From the time I was a child, I was always making up stories and presenting 'plays' to classmates and whatever indulgent audience of family and friends I could find. I studied English Literature at Trent University and finally ended up at drama school in the UK at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA).

Ruth Barrett
Professional acting is a tough slog. Just like hopeful authors, actors must constantly throw themselves on the mercy of others. We must charm our way into an agency if we want good paid work in our field... and it's just as hard as securing a writing agent! We perform shows for love and no money to build our resumes. We continually try to catch the eyes of casting directors and producers... and once we get a job, we hope to capture an audience. The cycle of high hopes and abject rejection is relentless.

I gradually transitioned into fiction writing as a creative outlet... all along keeping my hand in the acting world. Voice-over work became my speciality and I love it. Competition is fierce in any aspect of performance and I couldn't seem to find consistent employment in my niche. I'd always wanted to be in the company at Ontario's Stratford Festival-- and came close after a memorable audition fresh out of drama school. I went through years of feast or famine while juggling meaningless bread-and-butter day jobs to keep afloat.

One day out of the blue, I was contacted by a friend I once worked with during a voice-over stint in children's TV. He now produced descriptive video and remembered that I was a writer as well as a voice actor. Would I care to do some training? My new 'day job' landed in my lap.

It's a perfect marriage of my love of performance and writing. Finally, I make a living as a writer!

For those unfamiliar with description, it is a service provided for the visually impaired. I generally work from videos of TV shows and film embedded with a time code. My task is to describe any visual action important to the story that is not already made obvious in the dialogue, and this secondary script is then recorded by a narrator and added into the show's file for broadcast. It is vital not to talk overtop of the existing soundtrack, so the tricky balance is to both paint a clear picture of the action in words and fit it into the available space.

As a writer, I'm challenged to be concise and accurate. It's a great discipline for me to use in my own fiction writing.

Most of my contracts are with Accessible Media Inc.  Though I usually work writing scripts from home (huzzah!), I was part of a special live TV event you might have heard about-- Will and Kate's Royal Wedding! For a live broadcast, it is impossible to prepare a script ahead of time. My colleague and I were on the air for the entire six hours live-describing the events as they unfolded. It was the first time such a huge task had been undertaken in descriptive services and we enjoyed good media coverage. http://  

One of the loveliest things about this career path is that I now also work with the Stratford Festival. Through an initiative to provide better accessibility for all patrons, I am part of a team of live theatre describers. It's the best of both worlds for me: combining my writing and theatre training in equal measure.  

As for fiction, I'm not a romance novelist... but if you are in the mood for a chilling historical ghost story, please check out BASE SPIRITS (available in all e-book formats through the usual suspects, and in paperback). I'm currently busy with a new mystery series THE DEAD DRUNKS... and book one In The Bag is nearly done!
To keep up with my news and fun bits on writing, join me on my Facebook page at: http:// 


Sarah Raplee said...

Thank you for stopping by RTG, Ruth. I enjoyed learning about your career, as I hadn't heard of descriptive videography until now.

Actors have such a rough go of it - in some ways worse than writers do, I think. I'm glad you got to mesh the two in your day job.

Love your book titles!

Judith Ashley said...

Hi Ruth, an interesting and informative post. Thanks for sharing your path with us.

Ruth Barrett said...

Thanks for hosting me! It's always good to get the word out about the need for accessibility in the arts... and I'm happy to field any questions.


Linda Lovely said...

I was unaware of this wonderful and creative way to help the visually impaired. Your post was fascinating. Thanks for stopping by.

Charmaine Clancy said...

What a great way to strengthen your descriptive writing and offer a productive service for the community!

Charmaine Clancy said...

What a great way to strengthen your descriptive writing and offer a productive service for the community!

Diana Mcc. said...

I had never heard of descriptive videography before your post. How fantastic that you melded a day job out of your love of the arts. Do you record novels too?

Ruth Barrett said...

Thanks. I would love to record novels in future, but haven't had an opportunity yet!