Playwriting: starting a new play

Playwriting: starting a new play

Picture courtsey of Ramdlon

I've started a new course on playwriting. It's with Matt Grinter, author of Orca. I've only seen a snippet of the play but I've read the script. It won the Papatango prize a couple of years ago. He's currently working on a new play with some difficulty. The second album syndrome of sorts. 

The course is held monthly at the Theatre Royal Bath. This is a year long course with the aim of us all completing a play by the end. Last year, Sharon Clark, a recent Bruntwood Prize winner ran it. I believe there are 3 groups: beginners, improvers and advanced. I'm in the middle group. Most of appear to have written plays before and had some performed.

On our first evening, we did some introductions and made some tentative progress in developing our new play. We began with coming up with 4 elements: 

  1. A person
  2. An event
  3. A place
  4. A memorable moment


After that we needed to think about the story that could come from those elements. Not all 4 had to be used. What's interesting.

From that, we were asked to write 51 things about the person in 10 minutes. This is something I've done before and talked about in the previous post. However, on that occasion it was about what the person remembered. Matt's request was less daunting but perhaps revealed less about the character's essence. 

Once complete, our final task was to identify one word that summarises the theme of the story. Preferably a positive word. For orca, Matt used the word 'community'. Of course, students of the play might suggest that the community was as much a negative influence as a positive one. For the sake of the excercise, even if a word can have both positive and negative connotations, start with its positive interpretation. 

The next step, follows the Robert McKee method. So you take your word and put it through 3 iterations. 

  1. Contrary
  2. Contradiction
  3. Negation of the negation


Since we start with a positive word, I'd suggest thinking of it the progression as 

  1. It's opposite
  2. Worse than 1
  3. Worse than 2. The worst.


An example. Let's think of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Let's say it's about trust. Who can Willy Wonka trust with his money and legacy? So what we get is: 

  1. Distrust
  2. Suspicion
  3. Betrayal


So, initially no one can be trusted. Then there's a suspicion that people are trying to steal the secrets. Finally, everyone betrays the trust they've been given in being allowed to enter the factory. Except one. 

You can also do this with sentences as well but I think the single word is a good simplification. Try it yourself and let me know how you get on. 

Oh, what's the point of it. Well, here you have your 3 or 5 act structure. So you begin with your world that is run by the theme summarised by your word. But then you progress through the other stages, for example.

  1. Act 1: Trust to distrust
  2. Act 2: distrust to suspicion


and so on. Neat, eh? Like a lot of story writing, you'll probably realise you're doing it naturally. But it's nice to have an alternative method or at least something to use as a check.