You sit there at your computer. The blank screen stares back at you. A distant clock ticks.
You have ideas in your head. You imagine where the story begins and where it ends. Eluding you is how to get from A to B — the 98 pages between the first and the last page.
Trust me, you aren’t alone.
Try not to stress about it.
I’ve been writing plays and dialogue driven stories since I was about ten. I remember my first idea — a movie called “Fantasyland.” It was a basically a conglomerate of ideas heavily inspired by The Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia.
IT WAS AWFUL.
As I got older my writing became more refined. I initially pursued screenplay writing at the local community college in my home town because, lets face it, there isn’t much money in playwriting. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but prefer to write plays. Screenplays are far to technical and limiting in the form I found.
My scholarship ran out, and I ended up joining the military and putting down playwriting. But, like any passion it was only for a few years. I found my experiences and interactions forming themselves as scenes in my mind. I had to write again.
When I got out of the service I moved to California. My plan was to pursue screenplay writing as a degree at a school in Los Angeles, but after some less than favorable experiences with film industry individuals I found myself turned off by the notion of a future in screenplay writing. So, when I was due to transfer to the University from my community college I applied to schools in NYC.
College acceptance season was upon me and I was excited to find out that I got accepted to all the schools I applied for — Marymount Manhattan, NYU Tish, and Columbia University. I ended up picking Columbia, and well, here I am.
Life has an interesting way of taking you on adventures.
But what does this have to do with writing a play?
I believe it has quite a bit.
I firmly believe in writing what you know. Now, that isn’t to say that one cannot write imaginative things, but the important thing is that at the core of that imaginative creation is reality.
Your scene may be about two elves talking about future of their community, but if you stripped that scene to it’s core it’s still about two people talking to each other about their community.
Keeping this in mind, look at the world around you. Make notes about things that stand out to you. Conversations you’ve had. Experiences you have felt. These are the things you should write about. Who you choose to have these conversations in your plays is up to you.
Once again, you’re back at the white screen. Write a few of those things down on the screen. Maybe its something to do with gender, or love, or lust, or money… Just write it down. These are themes — the potential building blocks of your play.
Now, something I like to do is to take one of these themes and focus in on it — put it in context of a conversation between two nameless and amorphous persons: Person “A” and Person “B.”
Here is probably one of the hardest parts that even I to this day struggle with. Just write. Seriously. Just write. Start the conversation…
A: Fuck you.
B: I love you.
B: I’m sorry.
A: Stop. Don’t —
B: You should have told me.
A: — say one more word.
B: Why are you making this such a big deal.
A: I told you the other day, I got this.
…And just keep writing. Let the conversation happening in your mind fill up the page. Keep the conversation going as long as you can. Allow the power dynamics to change — to fluctuate.
You may never use this Micro Scene you have just created, but it can be very useful to get the creative juices flowing.
I have also found this technique to be very useful in building ones chops at developing strong subtext in ones writing.
But what is so important with this is your page is no longer blank. You have begun to write a play. You are one step closer to accomplishing your goal.
At this point, feel free to think about the characters that are in your story; the perspective you intend to take on the story; the events that will or will not happen and whether or not they will happen on or off stage. Outline, research, do what you need to do to further this budding piece of theatre.
Think in baby steps at this point, and before you know it you will be sitting in the Gershwin with Meryl Streep delivering a Tony award winning performance with your script.