My daughter began to smile this week.
She’s only been alive for a month, so this is a cause for celebration rather than a tale of facial muscles overcoming years of adversity.
When things happen is just as important as what happens.
In fact, you could say that the when of things is part of the what of things in creating stories and making a drama. Continue reading ““When” is just as important as “what” – it’s part of the “what” (a few thoughts #20)”
I have a bit of an involuntary tick when it comes to seeing questions in drafts of plays – whether those plays are mine or anyone else’s. Why? What have I got against questions?
In everyday life, we ask questions all the time. How are you? What’s that over there? How about that, huh?
When we do it, we’re often not interested in the details of the answer. We’re doing it to get along.
It’s a mode of talking that linguists call “phatic”, confirmation that we’re alive and that we’re showing/feigning being interested in being in the company of the person we’re talking with.
But if you’re trying to write a dramatic scene, I’m not sure it’s a great idea to put questions in the way of either character.
I’m going to work with an example here. A first draft of a scene I made especially for this exercise – but if you’ve ever read or written the first draft of a scene yourself, you may recognise some of the sorts of questions that come up. Continue reading “What’s That Question Doing There? (a few thoughts #17)”
In the world of novel writing, NaNoWriMo is buzzing along, with thousands of people aiming to write a 50000 word draft of a novel in the month of November. It’s a yearly event and I look forward every year to hearing of people attempting to start AND finish their work.
Theatre abounds with stories of the play written in a weekend, or in a fit of anger or inspiration over a caffeine-laden night.
While I’ve written some plays very quickly in the past, there’s only one play that I’ve written in two days – Who are you, Mr James? which turned into Post Felicity and won me my breakthrough awards and productions. As I’ve explained elsewhere, that two days and nights of writing was a culmination of around five years of thinking and failed starts.
When you’re writing a play alone, independently of a deadline and/or commission, what’s a feasible timeline? Continue reading “A 13-week recipe for writing a play (a few thoughts #14)”
Back in my uni days, I once said to an English lecturer that I had a great idea for a story but that I just hadn’t finished it yet.
“Stop right there,” she said. “If you’re going to be a writer, remember this. An idea for a story only exists when it is finished. Everything else is a starting point.”
Let’s take, for today’s starting point, the concept of beginning with characters. Continue reading “You’re Being Annoying (a few thoughts #10)”
Playwrights who have taken any of my classes in the last two years may have this commandment scribbled somewhere on a notepad:
Any information that no character has fought to get or tried desperately to hide does not belong in your play.
There you go. It’s a pretty simple injunction, but if you follow it you’ll write – and rewrite – stronger plays. Continue reading “Kill Your Exposition, then Hide the Body (thoughts on playwriting craft #6)”
The spark for this week’s post was to discuss the importance of the ‘where’ of dramatic writing. What follows is my thoughts while meandering around the streets of my inner-city village, less instructional than previous posts. (For a terrific introduction to thinking about the ‘where’ of a scene and how to combine it with characters, story and a provocative image, check out the books in this post here, particularly those by Wright and Van Itallie.)
I started this post walking around my gentrifying neighbourhood. Where there used to be garages and places where mechanics worked there now lie pilates and yoga studios.
This is no accident. The body has now become our vehicle, the thing to be worked on rather than in; a thing that we can repair and display rather than feel is us.
read the rest
I used to be paranoid about the number of playwriting manuals I bought, borrowed and read. Now I’m vaguely proud of it, partly because of the help many have given me to think around as well as within playwriting craft.
Below is a growing and curated list (with amazon links) of the books I recommend that I think could unlock different parts of any playwright.
Continue reading “Write Your Play with the help of some recommended books”
Writing isn’t therapy, but it can be therapeutic. When writing drama, though, if the therapeutic bug takes hold you can end up with a draft in which your characters live a bit too happily.
If you have ever tried some cognitive behaviour therapy to help sort yourself out, you might recognise things called ANTs, Automatic Negative Thoughts, that are best to avoid. Anxiety, depression and burnout aren’t fun or productive, despite what the stereotypes of writers say.
However, these bad thinking habits can be great for characters.
In fact, if your story so far seems a little cheery or flat, giving at least one of your characters one of these types of thoughts as a habit can give your dramatic writing the push it needs.
Continue reading “Make your characters anxious with some ANTs (thoughts on playwriting craft #5)”
2016 has been both a wonderful and terrifying year for me. I became a first-time parent. Then came the atmosphere stirred up by the clashing visions over Brexit and the US presidential elections. So, rather than publishing posts, I’ve been crying over many a change of nappy (sometimes with joy, I assure you.)
I have also been a tutor in playwriting throughout the year at City Lit. (You can sign up for the next 11-week term in 2017 here.) It’s an honour to share my take on our craft, and to witness the way small steps become strides for fellow playwrights over the course.
Each session is very workshop-orientated, usually prefaced with a discussion about the week’s set-play-to-read that leads into a technical exercise that the reading helps illuminate or inspire.
My favourite session this year involved a paraphrasing of something said by Ionesco – that all great plays at heart are crime mysteries – and an early 20th century feminist play. Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles” is a fantastic (and short) play that demonstrates some useful principles of playwriting – among them negotiation over physical objects and characters facing a crucial dilemma. Continue reading “Every drama is a crime drama (a few thoughts on playwriting craft #1)”
Writers need to read. Playwrights need to read plays. What writers & ‘wrighters do is enter into a discussion not only with their audiences but with a history of existing and surviving work. Some writers claim that they steer away from the works of others, but that just means that they are entering unknowingly with their work into discussions with the advertising and propaganda of the day. (For advertising and propaganda employ story technique on a hyper scale.) Ignoring the work of others potentially dooms you to repeat the worst of it.
As a professional playwright sometimes you can be engaged by a theatre company to deliver script reports that the literary department cannot conceivably cover via its own, usually minuscule, staff. The pay to deliver a report is fairly modest, but I can assure you (if you’ve ever submitted your script to a theatre company and you’ve wondered what happens) that every script reader I’ve met wants to find a play they love.
In terms of writing up my reports, I’ve tried to follow this process for a number of years now with these questions. Continue reading “What happens when I read a play”