Monday, October 5, 2015

Getting Started

The school year is well underway, which means many young playwrights have begun, or will soon begin, writing a play that will be submitted to the New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival. One of the biggest challenges in this work is getting started, or more specifically, deciding what to write about.

I originally began writing this post on August 26 while observing a playwriting workshop taught by playwright and master teaching artist, Dominique Cieri, for a group of teachers from the Madison Public Schools. Dominique has been a teaching artist with Playwrights Theatre for many years and it was in a workshop that she taught there that I've pulled a number of ideas and techniques that I use in my own writing and teaching. In fact, you will find other exercises from Dominique in previous posts on this blog (particularly this one)!

There was one activity from the teacher workshop that I felt could be helpful to those of you beginning to write that centers around what Dominique refers to as "the Passover Question": What makes today different from any other day in the character's life? The idea here is that we write a play because of an important event that happens in a character's life. As a result, the action of the play begins with the average, everyday life of the character, which is then interrupted by an emergency that needs to be address, or an opportunity that must be taken. To get to this idea, it is helpful to look at similar "life-changing" and challenging moments from your own life. So that this doesn't become a biographical play, I suggest imagining that you are watching this event happen to another person and write about it in the present tense. Record everything that you sense (see, hear, etc.) in that moment.

Some of Dominique's other suggestions included the following:

  1. Write about a fantasy, or dream, that you have.
  2. Write five facts about yourself that you know to be true.
  3. Write five facts about the universe (these don't necessarily need to be true).
Something from this list is likely to prompt an idea for a story. We also collect a variety of writing prompts on our Pinterest page, which may be of use to you. The main thing is to find an idea that interests you and to start writing. Don't get frustrated if you can't seem to hit on something right away. The important thing is to keep thinking and to keep writing. And don't throw any ideas away - you never know when something you decided not to write about may be helpful to get you through a place where you're stuck later on in the process.

Good luck and happy writing!