Get Ahead of the News

Sometimes, writers choose topics that they think are ‘hot’ or ‘relevant’. They then spend three months or three years developing that script, and find that the play feels dated or cold or that times have past on the topic.

There’s a way to avoid this problem: focus on what is dramatic.

Drama – conflict between characters that can only be resolved by change and transformation or defeat – never goes cold. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? never feels less than electric.

If you are writing something about, say, the latest UK election results, you are going to have to dig deeper than a bunch of people feeling sad (or elated). You are going to have to focus on characters doing something and failing and learning, if it’s going to be interesting beyond tomorrow and people who feel similarly to you.

When people complain of writing that “preaches to the converted”, what they really mean is that the writing lacks drama.

If you’d like me to help you figure out the drama in your ideas, get in touch. Or join the email list for more writing tips

Playwriting, Life and the High-wire Act: week zero

I’m trying to type this post while keeping an eye on my baby daughter. She’s in a swing seat, sometimes chewing on her hand or finding new ways to fling about her arm.

And I was going to publish this post… yesterday.

Yes, life (sometimes new life) gets in the way of writing (or writing about writing.) Writing-wise, I am working on the draft of one monologue that goes into an R&D session at the end of April, co-writing another play, developing three different television drama proposals and trying the rest of the time to find better ways to balance the family budget.

It’s tough. It’s exciting, yes, but also tough.

But a long time ago I started seeing tougher times as the moment to step up and try doing something different.

When I stopped smoking, for example, I realised it was better to give up on the day that you’re feeling the most stressed, otherwise you fall into the old relapse narrative.

And so what I’m going to do over the next thirteen weeks – during which there is a LOT of stuff going on in my work and family life – I’m going to follow my own recipe for writing the draft of a play.

Which means I’ll be posting updates of the kind of work I’m doing, and detailing some of the challenges of doing that work – time, content, story, kids.

What I’d love to hear is that you might have started to work on your own play, too.

I’m calling this week, week zero. What I did yesterday was spend 30 minutes typing out ideas for the basis of the work. When I search for ideas for plays I try to think about relationships that I feel are still unresolved, arguments that are unfinished yet still define part of who I am. Thinking this way you can start thinking about the people involved (including yourself) and the kinds of details and issues at stake. If you start listing events that happened as “there was the time that….” and get a bit of a run on, then there’s a chance there is enough to focus on for scenes that suggest a bigger story.

So. 30 minutes of this thinking-as-you-type yesterday gave enough details about a student falling out with a piano teacher to make me think that there are two characters there who think they want the same things, but have wildly different ideas and levels of control.

In the rest of the week, I am going to make a list of the events (“there was the time that…”) that I can recall and then make lists of sensory details. That’s right – columns of sight, sound (including words/phrases), feeling/touch, smell and taste. At this stage of things I’m not clear on a story, only a few heightened moments between the two characters, so the idea is to go foraging, collect, reject and select.

Writing actual scenes will come last. For me, this is what building a play means and I’m slightly scared to be sharing the process with you.

And now, either my daughter or I need a nappy change.

Photo by Elena Prieto Landaluce on Unsplash

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”

From here to paternity… 2018

Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

Happy 2018!

I’m back, a few days later than I promised, following my latest child’s birth (which was amazing, thanks very much.) I’m planning months’ worth of playwriting and screenwriting blog posts and would love to hear from you if you would like to know about a specific element, or my thoughts upon them. I will consider them during nappy changes. Honestly. (What else is there to consider?)

In the meantime, why not watch a few playwriting YouTube videos? Personally, as academic as it is, I lurve what playwright Paula Vogel has to say. You’ll learn more in the first 20 minutes of this hour-long video than you would binge-watching any series for several days.

It’s only had around 3000 views at time of writing. Let’s try to get more on board, shall we?

Don’t forget to keep in touch:

Photo credit:  by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

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)”

Writing your play with my help – your words and my guidance

You may have been reading my blog for sometime, or you’ve found me through a relatively random search.

However you got here, hi. You probably enjoy writing plays – or you enjoy the thought that you could write a play.

I’ve been teaching playwriting – as well as working professionally as a playwright – for a number of years now and recently started teaching** playwright clients via Skype in the US and UK after my recent move to Melbourne, also working with playwrights face-to-face here.

I can confidently say that if you enjoy reading my blog posts then, working together, I can give you personal, practical and targeted advice that will help you write your play.

My preferred process is to work with clients over 8 weekly sessions of around an hour to an hour and a half. Some writers prefer a maximum of 45 minutes. And after the 8 weeks is up, we can decide together whether we think there is more work to do or if the play is ready to fly. Or be posted. Or e-mailed. You know what I mean. Continue reading “Writing your play with my help – your words and my guidance”