Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sparking action with an Emergency

Here is a post originally published in November 2009 with some helpful tips on getting the story started. Enjoy and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Hopefully you have jumped the first hurdle of writing your play and have decided on something to write about! No matter how you got started - with a character or plot idea - your play is likely to get stuck without a clear sense of how and why the dramatic action occurs.

In the first few scenes of a play, the audience learns about a main character(s) everyday life. This includes what he/she does, who they communicate with, and the environment in which they live, among others. Once this everyday existence is established, the play will begin to take off as the character's world is suddenly turned upside-down and he/she is in a position where action is necessary. I wrote a little about this idea before (http://njyoungplaywrights.blogspot.com/2008/12/creating-conflict-and-raising-stakes.html).

For an example, let's look at the story of Little Red Riding Hood. In our introductory scenes we want to create Little Red's everyday world so we explore her life and ask ourselves questions about where she lives (what is the house like? where is it located?), what she does (does she go to school? do chores around the house?), who she lives with (who is in her family). The answer to these questions can provide information that is used in the play to create Little Red's world as it exists day-in and day-out. Then, something needs to happen that changes everything. In your English/Language Arts classes your teacher might refer to this as the "Inciting Incident" of the story - we'll call it the "Emergency."

Depending upon how you interpret the story of Little Red Riding Hood, or even which version you consider, there are a couple of dangerous moments that Little Red has to face. The Wolf may come to mind - his actions certainly present a dangerous situation for Red and her Grandma - but this is not our Emergency. Instead, we need to look for an event earlier in the play that changes Little Red's life and sends her on the journey where she eventually confronts the Wolf. For me, the Emergency is the moment when Little Red's mom asks her to take a basket of goodies to her sick Grandmother in the woods. This journey is new for Red - something completely out of her everyday existence - and it is in the action of trying to get the goodies to Grandma that Little Red's story unfolds.

Also consider the story of Cinderella (http://njyoungplaywrights.blogspot.com/2008/12/emergency-situation.html). The arrival of the invitation to the Prince's Ball is the Emergency event that breaks Cinderella from her typical routine. Now, she has the chance to get a better life for herself (not that I'm suggesting that marrying a Prince is the answer for Cinderella).

Take a look at the first scenes of your play and ask yourself the following questions:
  • Do these scenes show a typical day in the life of my main character?
  • Is the character's goal/want clear?
  • What happens that causes the character to go on his/her journey? (What is the Emergency?)
You may find that some of the answers to these questions will help to clarify the Emergency event that sets the entire play in motion. See where it takes you!

Happy writing!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Back in the saddle, again

We're exactly 2 months from the submission deadline for the 2012 New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival. Again those dates are:
  • January 14 - High School division (grades 10, 11, 12)
  • January 15 - Junior HS (7, 8, 9) and Elementary (4, 5, 6) divisions
Please see the Festival website at http://www.njypf.org/ for a full explanation of the submission process. Please be sure to follow the directions exactly! I look forward to receiving your play soon!

It has been very busy at the theatre recently and I've missed posting to this blog for a while. I look to get back into the swing of things by reposting some of the most helpful information from previous years. I will also generate some new posts, too. In the end, I hope that all of this is helpful as you begin/continue/finish work on your play!

Hopefully you have begun to write and are starting to develop an idea into a story. For those of you still struggling to start, or unsure how to begin, I will remind you of two common phrases:
  • "Write what you know."
  • "What if?"
That first phrase is a bit dubious and I've seen many young writers interpret it to mean that they can only start writing something when they've become an expert about it. I don't interpret it this way at all. I see "write what you know" as a reminder to a playwright that he/she to think through their story fully. That is to say, make sure that you as the writer are comfortable with the story and the characters enough so that you understand what is happening, why it happens, where it happens, and to whom it happens. Understanding these things means that you will know your story.

If you have chosen to write about something that you know directly - perhaps something that happened in your life, or a topic or event that interests you, I strongly suggest that you consider using "What if?" to put some distance between yourself and that topic. If you choose to write about a moment like this, ask yourself "What if the opposite thing happened?" For example, there is an interesting genre of literature out there called alternative history in which the authors take a historical event and imagine what would happen if the opposite occurred. What if the British stopped the American revolution? This works for those life events, too. What if I didn't miss the bus? (Or what if I did miss the bus?)

These are just a couple of ways in which you can start to write your play (or get through some writers block, perhaps). The important thing is that you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboards and WRITE!

And I wish you all of the best as you do just that!

Happy writing!