ARCHIVE- Mark Ravenhill 101 Notes on Playwriting

Mark Ravenhill’s plays include ‘Shopping and Fucking’ and ‘The Cane’ (Royal Court Theatre’, ‘Mother Clap’s Molly House’ and ‘Citizenship’ (National Theatre)  ‘The Cut’ (Donmar) and ‘Pool No Water’ (Frantic Assembly).  From 2022, he will be co Artistic Director of the King’s Head Theatre in London.

He is currently tweeting ‘101 Notes on Playwriting’ @MarkRavenhill2

Follow #MarkRavenhill101 for more

 

A note on my notes. I’m not writing these thoughts solely for newbies. They’re as much to remind myself of the things I’ve learned and to keep on testing them as I write. The process of emerging and aspiring never ends – if it does, I’ll stop writing !

Self-help writer Louise Hay advises us have a pen,scribble over her book- ‘yes’’no’’what?’ Etc .Do the same-virtually – with my notes. Notice those you react most passionately against- sometimes they’re later the most useful. Question the ones you feel most comfortable with.

 

#1 Just rediscovered what I rediscover every time; cut the first six pages of the draft of the play and the last page. The first six pages are more of a warm up and the last page is a victory lap/come down. With these cut you can see more clearly what the play is IMHO. You ?

#2 A play often progresses by the characters choosing to say -either directly or in so many words – ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to an offer of action. If you get stuck look at changing a no to a yes or vice versa and explore the consequences. Make sense to you?

#3 Characters asking questions is often the engine of a play. When writing/ rewriting see if you can frame lines as questions and explore the consequences. Could the first line of your play be a question ? Could the last line of the play be a … ?

#4 Try writing a draft zero/dirty draft. Let the characters say all the exposition, themes, everything they think and feel. Don’t show this to anyone – even yourself ! – and then write the first draft. Sarah Kane told me she did this for Blasted.

#5 For a theatre play, an hour of playing time is 9,000 to 10,000 words. Basic but no one tells you this! Think in minutes – after a thousand words, the audience are six minutes into the play. And so on. Writing a play is ‘sculpting in time’.

This has been the most popular note. Space now to say that the ‘sculpting in time’ is taken from the title of Tarkovsky’s seminal book about film making. He’s BOSS!

#6: An incredible number of plays over the centuries begin with the same situation: two or more characters anticipate the arrival of another character/s. Worth thinking: Who would anticipate the arrival of who in the opening of your next play?

#7: In early drafts the character most like the playwright is often passive, watches, listens, is enacted upon rather than acts. We’re reluctant to commit this character to dramatic action and the challenge and change that will bring about. But it must be done.

    This note resonated with many. Every playwright thinks it’s just their problem but we’ve all been there and will be there again.

#8: Language in a play is of a particular kind. A person speaks because they want to bring about a change in the state of another/ others. The line can be fine writing, simple writing, clunky writing – as long as it’s transitive it will work in the theatre.

#10: A teacher in school told us ‘drama is conflict’. When I started to write plays I found this led only to scenes of characters arguing. When I tried writing deferred conflict, conflict avoided until it was the only thing possible I found this more productive

#9: When writing your play learn to recognise the voices popping up in your head of those you want to impress, appease, defy. Thank them for their interest and then let them go. A play has its own integrity and you can’t let it be distorted by them.

  Worth training yourself to identify and let go of those other voices.

#11: A play is a series of ‘routines’. Eg; Nash tries to blame Tiz, Tiz rejects the blame. Until one of the characters or a new character breaks the routine and a new routine is established. Try to explore the full possibilities of each routine before it breaks.

This one I believe is a vital element. Beckett’s plays Godot and Endgame are entirely a series of routines.

#12: There’s something cruel about constructing a play, putting characters in situations that are everything from awkward to very painful. Don’t shy from this cruelty but use it responsibly, explore all it’s ramifications and don’t use it cynically or for effect.

#14: Exits and entrances are a key part of shaping a play. Many beginners avoid them by having lights up characters discovered, lights down characters still there and repeat. Early on I wrote a short farce as an exercise to teach myself exits and entrances.

For most plays leaving and arriving, exits and entrances are key.

#13 and three quarters; Be respectful of actors. They’re highly trained people working under enormous pressure. Be kind to directors. They’re mostly chancers who’ve blagged their way into a rehearsal room *orders second negroni *

#15: People create a narrative about themselves to make sense of their place in the world. This narrative becomes frozen and is no longer useful. Many plays explore the problems caused by the gap between this frozen narrative and the life they’re actually living.

I think this is true for many plays – have a think about it in your play / a well known play.

#16: Have characters say at the top of a scene who they are, where they are and what they’re up to. It will push you to make these decisions. Vagueness may feel satisfyingly ambiguous but will soon lose momentum. You can make exposition more subtle in a later draft.

This one sounds like it might lead to obvious writing but rather than obvious most people start a scene vague, hedging their bets and then the scene runs out of steam.

#17; Don’t try to anticipate/manipulate the audience’s emotional response. They will tend to respond with ersatz performed emotions. Just commit to writing the dramatic action of the play and trust that engaging with that dramatic action will elicit real emotions.

The emotions released by a good play are I believe complex – we can’t quite name them. Other forms- the Hollywood blockbuster, lots of musicals – are clearer about the emotions they want to elicit. No disrespect – I love musicals.

#18: What is dramatic action? What the characters on stage do to resist change, negotiate with change, initiate change, change the other characters, change the situation they’re in. In a theatre play the characters primarily do this through active use of words.

Sounds simple this but I keep on learning it.

#19: There is an appropriate amount of effort a character needs to carry out a task or achieve an objective. If the effort used is inappropriately big or small the effect is comic or melodramatic, both useful colours for your palette as a dramatist.

    Comedians/comic characters either play under (Buster Keaton can calmly walk through a typhoon) or over (Basil Fawlty reacts to a light rain). I’m heavily influenced by Henri Bergson’s slim volume On Laughter which is worth any dramatist reading.

#20 To get by we develop a persona that says ‘don’t hurt me – I’m so funny or clever or sensitive or special etc’. It’s limiting to use playwriting as a way of continuing to project this persona. It’s frightening at first but liberating to write plays from a more authentic self.

    Don’t use writing a play as a way of building your shell. Let the play ‘be’ – you should be I think a bit embarrassed that it’s angrier or funnier or more or less political than you’d like people to think you are.

#21: The quality of characters’ listening differs from playwright to playwright, play to play, scene to scene, beat to beat. Some character’s hear acutely and respond, some dialogue is monologues interrupted. Experiment and see what is best for your play/scene.

Try this: try dialling up and down and up and down how much characters hear each other in a scene right through from ‘I’m alert to every word you say’ to ‘I’m going to push on with what I want to say once I can cut into your meaningless chatter’

#22: A new character entering should be like someone stepping in to a dingy – everyone in the dingy has to reposition themselves to find a new balance or they’ll capsize. The action of the scene is the negotiation of that repositioning. Same for an exit.

This note is my greatest hit with the twittersphere. Duh! It’s spelt dinghy. ‘A negotiation between characters to find a new balance or capsize’ is a working model for most plays.

#23; Many plays have a character/s from the past trying to make sense of the present. Or sometimes characters from the future doing the same. In the fantasy/sci genre this can be literal. But characters from the past and future are in a play like The Cherry Orchard.

Not just characters. What from the past exists in your play? How far back? What emerges in your play that points the way to the future? Maybe particularly if you’re writing politically.

#24; There’s a three part structure : establish, intensify, subvert. This can be used to shape of everything from a gesture or sentence through to the structure of a play. Eg 1. They ice the cake 2. They furiously ice the cake 3. They throw the cake out the window.

I’ve found thinking in these three beats helpful in everything from a line to an entire play.

#25: There are two types of entrance for a character. Prepared entrance -eg John: ‘she’ll be here in five minutes asking for her money’ and unprepared entrance. Heavily prepared: everyone talks about the protagonist for first ten minutes. Most plays make use of both.

This is part of a wider pattern of set up/pay off. Lots of things in your play will benefit from a set up. You can go back in your draft and put them in. But equally some things can drop with no set up. Try using both in a play.

#26: Lots of plays use a variation on the protagonist/s come home or the protagonist/s leave home. The first tends to create more claustrophobic domestic, the second more open epic. Some plays use comes home / leaves home/ comes home again or other variations.

#27: Dramatic action tends to favour characters who are active above the reflective / passive, who are often better realised in the novel or poem. A good playwright will struggle with this, test it, challenge it. Shakespeare struggled with this problem in Hamlet.

Always something to struggle with but worth constantly challenging. This is pretty much all you need to know! But knowing it ain’t worth a hill of beans. It’s daily practice. (of course Dad has an objective too – maybe ‘I want to keep my car safe’ and actions he plays to Z)

#28: Shortcut Stanislavsky. Zahil wants Dad to give him the car keys ( Z’s OBJECTIVE). He tries persuading, shaming, bribing, alarming, soothing (etc) Dad. (These are ACTIONS, transitive verbs). Give yourself regular practice writing shortcut Stan mini scenes.

#29: A play is above all about a space. Who will be motivated to enter that space ? How at ease will they feel there? Who will claim ownership of it? How will their relationship to it change? How will they transform it? When will they be ready to to leave it?

True of a theatre building and the audience as well as the stage and the play?

#30; I cut the first word of many lines. That last bit of fear of committing to the action of the line has a put in a ‘well’ or ‘but’ or ‘just’. In rehearsals actors sometimes unconsciously put back in that little thing before a line. I try to discourage them!

#31: ‘Show don’t tell’ – a red herring? From the Greek plays messenger speech on, plenty of great plays have had a lot of ‘tell’. As long as the ‘tell’ changes the characters on stage and realigns the action of the play. Alternating show and tell works well.

  Tell can be used alongside tell as long as the tell changes the listeners and the course of the action.

#32: Over the course of a unit / beat things get a little better or worse for the character/s. In the course of a scene things better or worse, An act – things get substantially better or worse. The whole play – things get substantially, irreversibly better or worse.

My attempt to define unit/scene/act/play. Like all these notes an attempt only. There are no rules!

#33: A play doesn’t need characters. A play can be language: ebbing and flowing, contradicting, reconciling, finding balance and imbalance. Language speaking to itself. This doesn’t work on radio which needs a dynamic relationship with the mic to create pictures.

Lots of great plays do this. Kane’s Crave, Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life, Birch’s Revolt She Said, Handke, Jelinek…What’s your favourite play of language talking to itself?

#34: How much story does a play need? Not much. But enough. I normally have too much, cut it away. What’s needed: The emergence, experience and repercussions of an event which will irreversibly change the characters relationship with each other and their world.

I’ve found add more story is rarely the answer but explore the full consequences of a core story.

#35: Great plays are often also anti plays. The characters in Hamlet resist being in a revenge tragedy, The Cherry Orchard cast resist being in a well made play about saving the estate, Waiting For Godot: a prepared entrance that never happens, an exit they never make.

Maybe too much to take on if you’re writing a first play maybe not? Heiner Mueller would take on an old play, inhabit it like a virus until it was transformed.

#36: I try to find a strong word to put at the end of the line, that final pulse of energy that allows the actor to ‘bat it over the net’ and makes it a strong offer to the other actor. Going through a draft I look at each line, rearrange words to achieve this.

#37: An object (prop) can have some of the qualities of a character: a backstory, change the course of the action, change its relationship with the characters. To demonstrate this Chekhov cited a gun, Mamet a knife. We don’t have to be so aggressively phallocentric.

If you write – say ‘. she puts on gloves’ worth thinking who bought the gloves or who made them and could it have a part in the play? Could the gloves be used by another character later? Etc

#38: I find that the last page and the first page of a play are the ones I rewrite the most. There might be a few pages a third of the way in that remain the same as draft one. But identifying where the dramatic action begins and where it ends takes many many goes.

The pulse of energy that begins the play; the close that resolves the action, accepts the action can never be resolved or passes the question of the play over to the audience (as in the new play I’m working on atm) – finding these takes many rewrites I find.

#39: I never imagine my characters sitting down. If they do I find the scenes plateau. I have to feel with each line that they are pushing into the space or pushing out of it, drawing closer to another person or away. I call this the hidden kinetic dance!

#40: Exercise: take a much produced play which you’ve never seen/read. Read to the mid point. Put away and you write the next thousand words. Don’t parody, block, argue, tread water with what’s gone before. Accept what’s there and build as improvisers learn to do.

Let me know if you try this and what you discover. For the basic vocab of offer, block, accept, build etc read Keith Johnstone’s Impro – it’s a life changer.

#41: Scene treading water because two characters are locked in opposition? Find a point three quarters of the way into the scene and flip the dialogue .Give them each other’s lines. It’ll create a false reversal but it’ll give you ideas for writing a genuine one.

    Try the ‘flip’ if you’re treading water with your play – plenty of plays have the characters reverse roles during the course of the action with the closing moment being a reverse image of the opening

#42: Theatre language is based in the art of rhetoric ‘where’s my hat? Who’s got my hat? My hat’s been stolen!’ Rule of three here – escalating tension of the speaker through the three sentences, repetition of hat, breaking routine of questions with final exclamation.

The basic three part ‘establish – intensify – subvert’ (Eg ‘He’s so kind. He’s so hot. He’s so .. married’.) which can shape everything from a gesture to a play.

#43

‘I can do without the hat’ (character attempts to accommodate changed reality)

‘Look at that rain! I really need the hat’ (change of circumstances undermines attempt)

‘I’m going to find the thief who took my hat !’ (Character commits to action)

#44: A catch phrase: a repeated sentence the character is caught in. Chekhov’s characters have them, famously ‘if only we could go to Moscow’. Finding a character’s catchphrase allows you to identify their central obsession, even if you don’t put it in the play.

#45: A change of clothes allows a character to test/confirm/celebrate their transformation. Doll’s House-Nora’s tarantella dress. In film Sound of Music, every stage of Maria’s journey is marked by a new costume: nun, tutor, bride, wife, singer, refugee etc.

#46: Stage directions? Almost never. E.g.

– Take the knife.
– Alright.

An actor will choose to take the knife on the line, before the line, after the line. To take it greedily, warily, clinically within the logic of the given circumstances you’ve written.

#47; You’ve got to learn to cut. Take some pages you’ve written, word count, cut exactly 10%. Take away the lovely stuff that doesn’t develop the action. Now take out another 10%.See how often you can repeat. When’s the tipping point from taut to stops making sense?

#48; Look through the script. Some pages, terse words, plenty of empty page. Other pages, more words, less page. Couple of bits where almost no page, so many words. This means there’s a variety of pace, shifting relationships, dynamic thought. Promise of a good play.

#49: If you want it then you gotta put a clock on it. Sometimes several. I’ve got to get this sorted before they come back in the room so tomorrow I can deal with that to prevent/enable the big thing at the end of the week. Time pressure reveals, amplifies. Use it.

#50: Selective quoting of Aristotle’s Poetics which selectively cited from Greek plays led to our plays of dramatic action, focussed on escalating tension/rising action. It’s a huge skill to learn and you should learn it. But it’s not the only possibility.

#51; After your dirty draft (see note 4)try writing a draft where no character speaks for more than eight words before the next character interjects. This tends to push the characters into dramatic action. But don’t get too addicted. Some new plays overuse this imho.

#52: Some of my favourite plays are closer to a portfolio of one act plays picking away at the same problem in different configurations :Top Girls is three one act plays, Mother Courage four or five and my current crush ‘portfolio play’ BootyCandy by Robert O’Hara.

#53: Early drafts I have a rule: there must be no more than ten lines before there’s a change -shift in the power dynamic between the characters, say, or their understanding of each other or a change of tactic by one of them. Sometimes a bit forced but reveals stuff.

#54: Always imagine you’re writing for actors who’ve also been offered a well paid Netflix series. Create an objective for their character that’s exciting to act with strong actions that are an invitation to play. Give them sleepless nights agonising which to choose.

#55: The stage is a place of questioning, realignment, transformation. Choose as your starting point nagging doubt, the question that won’t leave you alone. Let the play embody, amplify your question. An acceptance of living with the irresolvable is still an ending.

#56: Dramatic words are on a spectrum of ‘thick’ with significance to ‘thin’. If you use dramatic irony (the audience knows something the characters don’t) the dialogue can be thin chatter ; the audience know that something significant is happening or is about to.

#57; Your characters probably won’t behave according to commonly agreed ideas of human behaviour. They act within the logic and ‘rules of the game’ of the world you’ve created. As the action escalates they may discover thoughts and feelings no one else ever had.

#58:Many plays are written in intense bursts of a few days/weeks. Can’t ring fence that time? Chekhov, ill with TB, wrote 100 words a day. After 200 days -The Cherry Orchard. Why not write 100 words a day in your coffee break? In six months you’ll have a full draft.

#59: The story of many great plays told alone sound insignificant or convoluted or ridiculous. The story only exists in the moment by moment dynamics between the characters. Elevator pitches – any kind of pitch I believe – aren’t possible for a good play.

#60: Forget standard punctuation. use whatever punctuation helps you to create rhythms of thought and feeling. The punctuation in that Shakespeare play you read in school? Added much later by editors. Contemporary playwrights each discover their own use of punct-

#61: Writing a play of short scenes? You cant have naturalistic scenic elements for each-kitchen with working cooker then shop with working till then ..the more the scenes, the more they must focus solely on the dramatic action between people without scenic elements.

#62; Four characters in a play A,B,C,D. How many different combinations? Even just for two hander scenes: A+B, A+C, A+D,B+C,B+D, C+D and then there’s three + four hander scenes. Think of all the combinations to generate scenes. A play like Marber’s Closer uses this.

#63;what are the routines, rituals, habits of the characters and their world,a world that will tip out of balance as the play begins? If you show us these they will tell us a lot-‘embodied backstory’. The characters will tend to cling on to them as change begins.

#64: Three things going on for the audience as the play unfolds:

Info: ‘ah she’s her mother!

Question: ‘why is she so angry with her?

Projection: l bet they’ll have a big row

I’m aware of these as I write without, I hope, manipulation.

#65; I’ve done this exercise many times. Choose a simple short story – Grimm’s Fairy Tales are good- and sketch the ten key pictures that embody the turning points of the story. If you train this muscle it will inform your own plays. Btw – my drawings are awful!

#66; The stage is a site of flow, transformation. It resists characters who try to ‘freeze’ themselves -an ‘impossible promise’. Many plays are driven by this. Loves Labours Lost. Men: ‘we forswear the company of women’. We know what’ll happen, we enjoy seeing how.

#67; Write the play first then do the research! Do no more than three days research than write zero/dirty draft. So you will see what research you need to do, stuff that informs the dramatic action. Again not too long -research is often what we do to avoid writing.

#67: Most of us have years writing apprentice plays -each one like trying on a jacket. they’re fine, they fit OK.T hen you write a play and the jacket completely moves with you, second skin. You haven’t reached the destination-the journey’s begun. How I felt with Shopping and Fucking.

#69: Things got better/things got worse then better then worse and so on of various degrees of magnitude is a way of shaping drama-you need that up/down for 7seasons of a tv show. For a play you could just keep tightening the ‘worse’ screw as in tragedy or farce.

#70: Even in a cast as a small as a 3 hander I often realise as I write that there are two of the characters I haven’t left on stage together. Is this because there’s no scene between them or am I avoiding writing the biggest scene of all? Very possibly.

#71: A very good playwright told me she always has the last line/image of the play first. Jealous! a play does often drive toward that last moment. Everything else is a set up for that pay off. But it takes me many drafts to get there.

#72: Got stuck in your scene, really heavy? Imagine one if the characters farts really loudly and boy is it smelly. Now how will they all react? You’ll find out new things. Dangerous to keep it in the final draft. One good loud fart is so funny it will stop the show.

#73: Learn to watch and listens to audiences at a reading or previews. When they lean forward, when they’re confused, laugh, hold their breath. These are your real notes rather than their comments after which contain a lot of intellectualisation and projection imho.

#74: Test a scene by reading each character’s lines aloud. One character at a time, skipping the other characters’ lines. You’ll see fresh things. It’s often surprising to find that a character you thought was very present is underwritten and others overwritten.

#75: GB Shaw suggested that a playwright had a rep company inside themselves. I’ve found this is true: ten or so parts of yourself that you cast in each play you write. The same voices appear named different characters. Also that your rep company changes over time.

#75: GB Shaw suggested that a playwright had a rep company inside themselves. I’ve found this is true: ten or so parts of yourself that you cast in each play you write. The same voices appear named different characters. Also that your rep company changes over time

#76: ‘I didn’t find any of the characters likeable’. Tough. Characters are pursuing their objectives within the stakes of the scene and the logic of the play. If you’re looking for Miss Congeniality she ain’t at home right now. Next!

#77: To dig in to a moment I have characters riff on a word.

You got whisky?

Sure I got whisky.

How much whisky you want?

I want all the whisky you got.

That’s a lot of whisky.

And so on and so on.

That focus can reveal a lot. Only bits are in final draft.

#78: All plays are dialogic (see Wiki) .You can maximise this by writing assemblage/montage of scenes, styles, registers, found text. A play like Churchill’s Light Shining In B’shire does this using many registers and new and found text to show a society in flux.

#80: Are you writing for an audience? This varies for each of us. When I write I’m inhabiting each line with one bit of my brain while another bit watches; :‘that’s surprising- ah I thought that might happen- I wonder if she’s going to try that?’ I’m a Gemini so…

#81: Every play is ingredients and a recipe to make a production. Some exciting developments in recent years have really pushed this. Writers offering directors, actors, audience or the roll of a dice to choose which scenes to play, which order etc. Give it a try! And you know who got there first ? Alan Ayckbourn. Take that young theatre makers!

#82: Watching audiences, the essential meaning of a play is its rhythm. More than literal meaning of what’s said it’s the pulse of the line, the tension and release, volume and silence, busyness and stillness. A good playwright I believe writes/thinks rhythmically.

#83: Composer Harrison Birtwistle :a score is an exploration of what’s set up in the first few bars. Same with a play: the first five minutes set up an unease, a problem, a question, an unbalance which there’s no need to add to but amplify, explore, push to the max.

#84: I often start with a generous number of characters then slim down as I go through drafts. Two characters can be combined to create a richer one, a character who appeared in earlier drafts but is now placed off stage can be a powerful (sometimes more so) presence.

#85: Don’t be Cartesian! Keep the body present. We touch, bruise, lactate, menstruate, breathe, spit, bleed, ejaculate, piss, shit, kiss, wound and heal, taste, smell. Brecht, writing about the thinking Galileo, makes sure that his body is also always present on stage.

#86: I was terrified at first when I tried to put more than a few people in a scene. Then I realised there’s always a central dynamic at any moment between two people however many people are on stage. Plays are a sequence of duologues when you scratch the surface.

#87: We tend to rehearse an event in advance. Some genres use this explicitly; the heist or let’s put the show on here in the barn. Genet’s Maids rehearse. There’s often a gap between what we rehearse and what happens. Even when this game is hidden it’s often there.

#88: ‘I’m worried my characters will sound the same’. Relax ! Most plays have a dominant register : everyone on stage is using the same language. If each character has a clear and contrasting intention then each will ‘sound’ different.

#89: The stage is not often the best place for literal action. Killing of Osama Bin? Better scenes; the hit squad game play it in advance, Hilary and Obama watch it from the war room, a story meeting four years later for the movie retelling. I call this refracted action.

#90: Hard to distinguish between what’s actually in the play and what you’ve projected on to it. Take your draft, make a note page by page of what the audience actually see, information they actually hear. You may be surprised how different it is from your projection.

#91: Take two abstract nouns-use each scene to explore how they intersect/clash/blend .I did this :S-ing and F-ing. Eg write a Family and Freedom player Fam +Business, Fam +Genetics etc. Doesn’t need to be the title. Mother Courage is a Mother and Business play.

#92: Early on I came across a useful suggestion from Augusto Boal : inside each character’s objective is the seed of its counter objective. Eg ‘I want you to love’ has inside it ‘I want you to reject me’. I found using this made scenes and figures more dynamic.

This was in Jeux Pour Acteurs et Non btw

#93: Ibsen’s notebooks :notes on the mechanics of plot for Doll’s House but once he’s got two characters to a ‘showdown’, the only note is ‘big scene’ then discovers it in the writing. Good! Use plot to push you and characters out of comfort zone then see what happens.

    Ten books that have given me starting points for developing my writing ‘technique’ (quite a few I’ve also been lucky enough to take a class with the author); Augusto Boal – Games For Actors and Non Actors/Mike Alfreds – Something Different Every Night/Hans Thies Lehmann – Tragedy and Dramatic Theatre/ Keith Johnstone – Impro/ Alexander Mackendrick – On Filmmaking/ William Archer- From Ibsen’s Workshop/ Henri Bergson – Laughter/ Martin Esslin- The Field of Drama/Manfred Pfister – Theory and Analysis of Drama /John Wright – Why is that so funny?

#94: To help me define the world of the play I’m working on I make lists of things that embody that world : sounds, objects, music etc. Most don’t find their way into the play but it’s a way of creating a world to write in to.

#95: I find the further you are in to a play the slower it is to write. I guess the later sections carry the weight of what’s gone before. I find writing time doubles for each 25% of the play

Pages 1 -20 :10 hours writing

21-40:20 hours

41-60;40 “

61-80: 80 “

#96: When you have a strong sense of what you want to achieve with a play, feedback can be useful-you’ll use the notes that will help you realise your play. If you don’t have that sense, feedback will blow you off course. Choose carefully when to share your play

#97: Good plays are written for that audience who’ll turn up on that street in that neighbourhood. Local plays. These can be poor plays: in jokes and flattery. But to really get to the essence of that audience -full discomfort and joy of recognition – that’s the thing.

#98: A good play is physical theatre. If the writer gives the actor a strong objective and actions to play the whole body will engage, the voice will begin in the diaphragm and fill a large space. No mic and camera. The playwright is writing for the whole body.

#99: My definition: go through script and rewrite lines = polish. Ditto but rewrite scenes = a rewrite. Take script apart, question fundamental things about it, rebuild again from the ground up with substantial new material = a new draft. Allow for 3 – 7 drafts.

#100: I often experience theatres initial disappointment that the play I’ve sent them isn’t like my last one but I believe that’s ultimately given me longevity. Don’t type cast yourself or let others do it. Keep pushing yourself to find the limits of your voice.

#101: To finish, Toni Morrison ‘if there’s a book you want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, you have to write it’. Resonates -that’s how I started l-the sense that a play ought to exist, it would be easier if someone else wrote it but they haven’t so YOU MUST.

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Published on:
30 Aug 2021

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  1. Brilliant. Thank you so much xx

    by Kit Wright
    4:47 pm, 4 Sep 2021
  2. Superb. Thanks very much for sharing. John FR Munro, Glasgow, Scotland

    by John Munro
    8:39 pm, 20 Sep 2021