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
How to make theatre in a land where people try to reassure you with the phrase, “no dramas”? How does the assumption that a lack of drama is good affect what theatre companies do with Australia’s playwrights? I have tried to answer that in this State of Play essay at australianplays.org
Visit, read and cause a scene if you should care to
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”