How to Make a Character Quickly? Look for Love

A few thoughts on craft #21

There are many ways to come up with characters, but I’m about to share with you my favourite way.

What is the basis of a dramatic character? Most writers will say that the character is wanting and failing to get something, and then does something about it.

So, one shortcut for getting inspiration for an amazing character is to look through the love-wanted classifieds or websites. Continue reading “How to Make a Character Quickly? Look for Love”

“When” is just as important as “what” – it’s part of the “what” (a few thoughts #20)

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)”

How to Finish Your Play if You Take a Holiday

Photo by andrew welch on Unsplash

You’re writing a play. You’re half-finished. But you have a crazy job with a boss who calls you up at all times of day. And you’ve set aside a week of leave. Unpaid. Paid. You forgot to check. But you don’t care.

Because there’s your play. You have notes for all of your characters. You have a half-completed manuscript. You’ve lined up all your playwriting ducks. You sense a finish line. Your dreams focus upon horizons and flight.

You just have to finish off a couple of things at your ‘real’ job before you get back to your script. Continue reading “How to Finish Your Play if You Take a Holiday”

Merry Christmas – or was it better than that? (a few thoughts #19) 

I hope that whatever festivity you celebrate at this time of year, you enjoyed it.

If you didn’t, however, don’t worry too much, for you’ve probably gathered material for a play or screenplay.

One thing that is sometimes unclear when we ask “when” a play happens, is that we’re probably asking about the occasion.

The occasion of a scene can be a great dramatic writing tool, because the characters who participate will have both shared and personal expectations of how the event should proceed.

If everything, including what doesn’t work well, goes to everybody’s plan, then it’s not really that dramatic.

But if this is the first year that Darren’s mock turkey doesn’t make Nanna gag, then the reactions will be interesting to witness.  Continue reading “Merry Christmas – or was it better than that? (a few thoughts #19) “

When Worlds Collide and the Art of Subtraction (a few thoughts #18)

What if the thing that is going to destroy your normal world has actually been a part of it all along?

My favourite thing in the world, apart from writing scripts, is the reading of them. Part of my relatively recent move into screenwriting means that I have been gobbling up television and film scripts of late.

Many writers I love and respect claim that they don’t need to read the work of other playwrights and screenwriters. That they only need to experience the work to learn from it.

I find this claim odd. If you were a chemist, would you only need to watch acid eat through something in order to make a similar compound? Wouldn’t you want to look a little closer? Continue reading “When Worlds Collide and the Art of Subtraction (a few thoughts #18)”

What’s That Question Doing There? (a few thoughts #17)

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)”

Just because you feel it doesn’t mean it’s crap (a few thoughts #16)

Bumped into a playwright friend recently and asked how she was doing.

She said she was three-quarters of the way through her play’s draft, and she was lost and didn’t know if it was crap or not.

I’m the sort of friend and fellow playwright who nodded enthusiastically and said, “That’s great!”

Now, why would I do something like that? Am I some sort of bullying psychopath? Continue reading “Just because you feel it doesn’t mean it’s crap (a few thoughts #16)”

Who Do You Think You Aren’t? (a few thoughts #15)

One camel staring at another camel, who is in existential distress

What do your friends say about you behind your back? Or in front of it? Hang on. That’s a tricky physical manoeuvre.

What’s that got to do with writing drama? Don’t worry. We’ll get to that soon.

Maybe you’re reading this because you’re a regular. Maybe you’re reading this because you’re searching for writer’s block busters. Or maybe you are still trying to find yourself as a writer.

Great. I want you to put aside half an hour and try the following six steps. Continue reading “Who Do You Think You Aren’t? (a few thoughts #15)”

A 13-week recipe for writing a play (a few thoughts #14)

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)”

Tiles are only half the story (a few thoughts #13)

As a playwright, screenwriter or novelist, are you more a sculptor or a tiler?

My maternal grandfather, Harry, worked as a master tiler. Tiling obsessed him. Even after he retired, he kept a collection from his working life of favourite tiles, in a separate shed.

Walking with Harry was to experience the world through a builder’s eye. Enter a shopping mall and he would stop at the entrance, look at the layout, inspect the grouting then marvel at the scale or difficulty of the floor.

He was the sort of man whose determined interests kept automatic doors from closing.

He drove past buildings in his home city of Geelong and pointed them out. “Did the floor of that one… did a bathroom there… that one, never really happy with the wall there.” These would be jobs completed up to fifty or sixty years previously. He felt horrible about having charged a customer full price when he felt that he’d made an error, probably one of the few tradespeople to argue against customers who wanted to pay the full rate. Often, the errors he worried about weren’t even noticeable if at all visible. But he knew… he knew…

When I was about 20, I tried to tell him that I wanted to be a playwright.

This worried me, because Harry sometimes fumed at the television when a scene finished in one location and then cut to another. He accepted cuts for the news, but in drama it confounded him. I worried that maybe drama confounded him, full-stop. So I wasn’t sure how he’d respond to my writing urge.

I did my best. Something about giving words to actors, directors and technicians so they could put on a show, or display something of the world as I saw it.

“Oh, right,” he said. He took me outside and lit a cigarette. (He’d smoked since he was 11.) “Right. So, playwriting is a lot like tiling.”

“How’s that, grandpa?”

“You have to make sure you build something solid so that other people can walk all over it.”

Many years later, I tried to remember what Harry did as a tiler, and learned to tile a kitchen floor. I had a sort of sense memory from watching him do things when I was really tiny, plus I had the internet.

But I wanted to prove I could do it, and in a weird way I suppose I wanted to see if tiling really was anything like playwriting.

When I first imagined tiling a floor, I thought, tile, trowel, adhesive, grouting – done.

But those actions, the application of tile to adhesive to floor, etc., while crucial take up the least amount of time.

There’s the planning, the choice of tiles – the formatting, if you like.

There’s also the setting up of the space before you place a tile.

And then once you mix the adhesive, you only have about half an hour to use it before it goes. Goes… not sure what the proper word for that is, but it’s even trickier to deal with than leaving out a tub of ice-cream.

Which means that, once you have done the work of putting down the things that people actually see and stand and walk upon, you spend about five times as long cleaning up tools and space, worried about errors large or small or unseen.

The words that a playwright lays down in the moment only take as long as they do to type. Obviously. And truly.

Before those moments, though, for me at least, come hours and weeks of thought and reconsideration. I tend to write my dialogue and stage directions fairly quickly – er, yeah, as quickly as it is to write or to type them – but that’s the apex of the work. The more thoroughly I prepare the less scared and more confident I am.

Afterwards, the cutting and finishing and fixing is only messy if I neglected something in the preparation.

Grandpa Harry never got to see a play of mine produced. He certainly never got to see the floor I tiled. And he was right. A play has to withstand human forces while supporting a parade of humanity to march on.

Sometimes, when I enter a theatre to see a show, I think of him, and look for the joins and reason in the work that builds itself through time and our presence as an audience. I’ll marvel at the scale and difficulty, I’ll feel guilty for mistakes I feel I’ve made in the past and try to remember that a master tiler is never jealous of other tilers’ jobs.

Photo by Robert Nelson on Unsplash