Photo: Julia Freeman-Woolpert
I thought I'd give a brief summary of the workshop I attended in Milan run by Simon Stephens. He's probably best known for his adaption of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime but is a renowned playwright and teacher. As an aside, do you know where The Curious... title comes from? It's from Sherlock Holmes. A case solved but never written about. Anyway, back to Simon. He's an exuberant teacher with bags of energy. If you've read his diary, many of the techniques he uses are hidden in there but it was great to play them out live. Several were passed to him during his tutelage at the Royal Court. He hosts their podcast which is well worth a listen.
I'll not reveal all his techniques since you might want to read his diary or attend a workshop. However, I'll tell you one that we did that was a method used to help develop a character. Once you have your character and you could use this technique with several in the same story. With a pen and notepad at the ready, set a time for 10 minutes. In that time, write down 50 things that the person remembers. You can write a single word up to a sentence for each memory.
During our attempt, only a few of use managed 50. I manged about 30. Of course, you could keep going until you had 50 but the time pressure is important. This limited, helpful in most creative aspects e.g. the frame of canvas, appears to make your brain switch from conscious to unconscious thought. I cannot prove this but we all felt there was some sort of shift when we reached the 10-15 mark. It wasn't like a car going up a gear but more like a hybrid switching from electric to petrol. As Simon, remarked, if you do this excercise every day for a week you'd have 250 memories that could inform and sustain your character.