From The Oxford University Writing Course Forums 2016

October 17, 2016 by in Play Writing


How I Write:

My writing more likely fits the statement:  “Playwriting is an activity subject to the constraints of reason.”  First I start with an idea (especially from my journal). If the idea appears dramatic and fit for the  stage,  I will “write” a draft in my head.  Then I will put down a rough draft on paper.  If the draft looks promising, I will develop the idea as I put the draft on the computer.  At that point I have something!  Then begins the process of shaping the idea into a play.  That process takes many revisions to make it interesting and sensible for an audience. The play may look quite different from the original idea, but the original idea is what drives the whole process and is the essence of it.

My Favorite Thing:

I LOVE Shakespeare.  I LOVE Shakespeare because he puts humanity on stage.  He knows people so well he lets the created characters  speak and act for themselves,  even those of different backgrounds and cultures.  The characters are not mouthpieces for the author.  What happens to the characters in Shakespeare’s plays occur because what THEY say and do, not what the author believes.   This is very liberating for me in my writing.   With proper research (through travel, reading, and direct contact with people of other cultures), I can write plays about peoples of other backgrounds and cultures:   I can let them speak, I can let them believe, and I can let act with outcomes based upon who they are.

Giving the audience what they want but…

Characters in a play should be complex like life, not unidimensional or conform to a type.  Characters should have the capacity to change as well as act in unexpected or unpredictable ways.  However they should change and act in ways that are compatible with the character that has been presented.  There must be some logic in what is happening to the character so the audience can relate to the changes and be engaged with the character and the play.

Changing the rules: Are plays about language?

In (classwork), there are the following statements:  “…the theatre is about language…” and “…writing for the theatre and radio may be primarily about using language…”  Is this really true?

I find plays that are about people only talking very BORING and TEDIOUS.  Take LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (very long) and THE ICEMAN COMETH (until he comes).  Plays are  about language AND action.   Shakespeare’s plays give us action after action–it is nonstop.  Though the available texts have few stage directions, there is movement all the time that is brought out from the text by capable directors.

In my own writing I do write heightened stage language with attention to rhythm with iambic beats (blank verse), but I write plays (even 5 or 10 minute church plays) with ACTION.  It is interesting that the least successful type of production of my plays is a Table Reading where all the stage directions are read.  In that setting the reading of the stage directions takes away from the thrust of the play.  With a Staged Reading, it is better because the actors are doing more of the action.  With a Full Production the audience SEES what theactors do and there is seamless connection of the action to the play.

Doesn’t Drama mean “to do” and Theater mean “to see”?

The Iceberg Principle:

In writing drama how do we build a world on the iceberg principle in which only 30% of all the research is actually used but with the confidence that is is grounded in the 70% that the audience never sees?  We build characters and actions who speak and act in ways that are consistent with the research without directly articulating these facts in exposition.



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