Diegetic and Nondiegetic (research)

 Diegetic - within the story world of the radio play (as when a character turns on a TV or a CD player, and we hear music)
 Nondiegetic - sound events that do not have a source in the story (as the play credits, music accompanying the play credits, underscoring or 'mood' music balanced against scene dialogue)

 The terms diegetic and nondiegetic are well established in film criticism, even among film reviewers, and we can transfer them to radio drama. As usual, we will use both academic terms and practical production terms for a full explanation.

Diegetic sound events

The diegesis is composed of everything that belongs to the story space of the radio play. If a character turns on a television and we hear music, we know that this music has a source in the scene (the livingroom). We describe that music as diegetic. But in production terms, it cannot be simply a CD track played through the sound mixing desk as this is illogical. It does not sound the sort of music we normally hear from our TV in the livingroom. (It would sound too digitally perfect and the sort of musical pure quality we get from listening to a music station on a good digital radio.) The FX 'TV music' has to be treated so that it sounds 'diegetic' - within the story space. The best production solution is to play a CD track in the Studio, on a CD player, with the actors, and balanced against their dialogue. It will be picked up by the Studio microphone(s) and it will sound as it suitably should. (We also use the production term 'programme music' for this.)

Nondiegetic sound events

If we hear music which does not have a source in the story, such as the music at the beginning of a radio play, that is nondiegetic. Other examples of nondiegetic music are the music between scenes (music bridge) and music under scene dialogue (underscoring music or 'mood' music). Other nondiegetic elements are: the play credits, certain types of spoken narration, and sometimes, a symbolical sound effect.

The radio play listener judges, similarly to a TV play or a film, whether the sound events are accessible to the character (diegetic) or inaccessible (nondiegetic).


If there is a narrator of the story, and so the play moves back and forth between two levels (a primary or extradiegetic narrator), the narrator is either an all-knowing, omniscient narrator (an 'author' narrator) or a fictional character who also appears in her or his own story ('first-person' narrator). Examples: the all-knowing narrator in an adaptation of a novel, as the editorial voice of Dickens, Thackery, Trollope ('author' narrator); and the 'Dear Diary' narrator so often successful in R4 afternoon plays ('first-person' narrator). The radio play may sometimes open, as does many a fictional film, with a narrator whose words lead us to believe that they are the source of all we hear.

See Narrator

For film studies, diegetic and nondiegetic was first explained by Gerard Genette, "Frontiers of Narrative," in Figures of Literary Discourse, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York, 1982), pp.127-44.

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