Observation Thursday

Observation is my number one method of finding play ideas. If you’re ever at a loss for coming up with something to write about, start logging observations. I write down observations on a daily basis and on Thursdays, I’m going to share one with you what I’ve seen and then you could do with it.

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WHAT WERE THEY SELLING?

When: Tuesday July 15, lunch time.

Observation: Three boys, in the street, yelling out side the post office. They’re selling something – I don’t know what. Whatever it is, is $4. And they’re trying to figure out if the guy they just got money from, gave them $4.  (The Loonie is a dollar coin in Canada and the Twonie is a two dollar coin)

“He gave me two loonies”

“Then he didn’t – !”

“No – Two Loonies and a Twonie.  Two and two! We’re good, we’re good!”

Whatever it was they were selling, one of the ladies from the post office then came out and told them to clear out. The boys were apologetic and polite.

What you can do with it: Doesn’t this one write itself? What were they selling? Why were they so bad at math? And why would the post office lady shoo them off? Write the conversation between the three boys before they get to the post office to set up their wares, the conversation with whoever it was who gave them $4 and the conversation between the ladies in the post office as they watch the boys and decide to shoo them off. Have the boys been there before?

Of course that’s the realistic approach. Think about the fantastical approach. What fantastical thing could these boys have? What if the ladies in the post office were not just clearing the street but maybe were jealous of the boys? How does that change things?

Happy writing!

 

Words are sneaky

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”  – Diane Setterfield

I’m always amazed at the power of words. I’ve had schools pull productions not because of anything done, not because of any threat, but the mere presence of words and what they might do. Isn’t that what censorship is all about? The fear of what might happen? The fear that those sneaky, sneaky words might cause havoc in the streets?

When have you felt the power of words?

The thing is that words are sneaky.  They can sneak into our consciousness and make us do things. Think things. Words sweep us away into imaginative worlds. Words make us stand up and stand behind a leader. Words can be so powerful that even if we know we’re being lied to, we believe. That is so sneaky.

As writers, it’s important to know the power of words and respect them. And not to be afraid to use words to their utmost. Words are our job. Words, for some of us, are our lives. Know the power, use the power. Write for the best effect possible.

Are you aware of the power of words when you write?

It’s important to know that “writing for the best effect” doesn’t mean manipulative writing. You want your audience to have a genuine emotional response, not one manufactured by sneaky words. I cried while watching My Girl when Macaulay Culkin died and I hated it because it wasn’t a good  movie at all.

Has a movie ever made you feel something, you knew was fake?

But you absolutely want characters who are sneaky with words. Characters who lie. Characters who manufacture emotion in other characters. These are human traits and further fascinating traits.

This episode of Penn and Teller’s Bullsh*t is a perfect of the power of words and that words can be sneaky. The premise is simple, will people believe the food they’re eating is high class if they’re told it’s high class?

Check out some exercises for this concept below the video

 Exercises

  • Make a list of convincing words. What words hold the most power for you?
  • Think of a time when someone was able to convince you to do something simply because of words. Not anything that they did, but what they said.
  • Think of a time that you used words to convince someone. What were you trying to accomplish? What words did you use?
  • Create a character description of a good liar. What words do they use when they lie? Why do they lie? What makes them a good liar?
  • Write a scene between the Liar and their significant other. What lie is being told in the scene? What sneaky words do they use?

 

The Top Ten Rewrite Questions

When you’re working on rewrites questions are your greatest ally. They are practical and tangible. You can answer a question, you can realize the answer is already in the text, you can choose not to answer a question. Being mysterious is okay so long as it’s a conscious choice and not a missing plot point. When you’re asking people to give you feedback don’t ask for their opinion, get them to ask questions.

You can question many different parts of your work – the characters, the story, the structure – just to name a few. If you want your writing to be specific, effective and efficient it’s important to question.

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The Top Ten Questions to Ask of Your Work

  1. Why is the first page a great introduction?
  2. Why is the last page a vivid ending?
  3. Why will an audience find the world of your play interesting?
  4. How does each scene move the play forward?
  5. Why do you leave each scene when you do?
  6. Does each character have a unique voice in their dialogue?
  7. Are your characters living the story or are they telling facts?
  8. Does each character have a want? How do they go after it?
  9. What is the main conflict of the play? What are the obstacles?
  10. Is there conflict in every scene?

Observation Thursday

Observation is my number one method of finding play ideas. If you’re ever at a loss for coming up with something to write about, start logging observations. I write down observations on a daily basis and on Thursdays, I’m going to share one with you what I’ve seen and then you could do with it. Observation Thursday

An inappropriate Selfie

Observation: Two people dressed in funeral blacks taking an odd selfie outside a funeral reception.

Date: Saturday June 14 2014

Comments: I was driving down a residential street. I stopped at a stop sign and saw a house with many many cars outside. I saw people get out of a car dressed in black, and a few more outside the house dressed in black. My keen powers of deduction decided that this was a house reception after a funeral. I saw two young people standing on the lawn. Both in black. He had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. She was pouting and toasting with a wine glass. They were taking a selfie of themselves. At a funeral reception.

What can you do:  Create the scenario.Who are these two people and what is their relationship to the dead person? Are they sad? If they’re not, why? Who has died? Why do they feel it’s okay to take a selfie in these circumstances. Write a scene between these two characters. Write another scene where a third person comes up to them and sees what they’re doing. What would their reaction be?

The Writing Process

What’s my writing process? Let’s find out.

This is my first experience with a bloghop. The idea is to share the writing process of participating authors.  The Struggling Writer passed the baton to me and you can read his response to the questions here. You can also see which writer he got the questions from.

Here are my answers…..

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What are you working on?

I have a habit of doing too much and as I answer this question I feel a little overwhelmed just looking at the list. I have a middle school play in rehearsal and it opens next week so I’m at rehearsals making final tiny changes. I also have a full length play going into production next February but the theatre company is gearing up for a workshop at the end of September so that’s my deadline. I’m also doing a lot of educational writing – lesson plans, articles,  rubrics oh my! My writing life is really varied. I just would like to be doing less things. But there’s so much to write…

How does your work differ from others in your genre?

What a great question! My work resides squarely in the theatre in education genre and because of that I have a pretty specific focus on process over production. What I mean by that is the process that the students acting in the play go through is just as important (or more important) to the students watching the final production. Connecting to an audience is always key and you have to write with your audience in mind – but – I’m also thinking about the student actor experience: having enough good parts so that an entire class can put on the play, easy staging and costuming, creating a theatrical experience.

Why do you write what you do?

I love writing for the school market. I feel there’s no group more enthusiastic, open, daring, or energetic than the high school drama production. It’s a joy to watch them work. Further, I don’t know if I believe theatre in the adult world actually has any impact or influence. Does theatre change lives anymore? I do know theatre has impact and influence at the school level. Just being in a production can change a student’s life. And it doesn’t matter what the play is either. It could be intense and dramatic, it could be fluffy and total fun. It’s the act that matters.

How does your writing process work?

I always start with pen and paper. I haven’t got to a point where I can create on computer. Call me an old lady but the act of writing with a pen is just so utterly satisfying. I feel more creative with a pen and paper. When I start writing it’s all scrawl. There are notes, point form lists, snatches of dialogue, ideas, lines crossed out. There is no rules and there are no bad ideas. It’s a true honeymoon stage. It’s my favourite phase of writing.

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Having said that I wouldn’t give up my lap top for the world. Because there always comes a time when I’m tired of writing things out and I want the structure of a formatted play. Once I transfer to the computer I focus on getting from the beginning to the end of a cobbled together first draft. I’m still  not worrying about plot holes or character questions but I do want to put together a first draft that makes some sense. This is my do draft. I just get’er done.

Then I move on to the why draft where I question everything. Why does this happen? Why does this character act in this way? This is the most painful stage because one question can derail the whole writing process. Once I get through the first why draft I’m ready to start showing my work to others.

I have a trusted reader who I show my work to and he’s the first person who sees anything I write. If I get the thumbs up from him then it’s time to start seeing the work on it’s feet. A play is not a play until it is produced. And that means first a reading and then a workshop and finally a fully staged production.

And then the process starts all over again….

The Next Step

I have passed the baton to Bradley Hayward a fellow playwright. When he answers the writing process questions you’ll be able to them on his blog. Enjoy!

 

Your Restaurant Scene Isn’t Working

I have read countless scenes that take place in a restaurant.

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Two people sit down. They look at the menu. They talk about the entres. They order. And… I am…. asleep…..

This is exactly what happens when two people go into a restaurant. It makes sense to follow that pattern, especially if you think that a restaurant is the perfect place for a scene.

But no one goes to the theatre to see the way things are usually done. No one cares if Jimmy orders the french soup and Jane orders a green salad. If they wanted to see what goes on in a real restaurant they would go to a restaurant. They’re not at a restaurant. They’re at a theatre.

You have to do two things with your restaurant scene. Right now.

  1. Get to the point.  We don’t need to see two people ordering soup to know they’re in a restaurant.  Why are they they? How does this scene help move the play forward?
  2. Make it extraordinary. That’s what people want to see. They want to see something they recognize twisted into something that just doesn’t happen in daily life.

Keep in mind – extraordinary doesn’t have to mean aliens drop kicking the white house. It could. That would be something to see. It could be as simple as the waiter taking the orders at that restaurant breaks down at the table because french onion soup reminds her of her husband who left her for their French Canadian neighbour yesterday. That is something that doesn’t happen every day to two people ordering in a restaurant.

Don’t discount the aliens though, that would be interesting too.

Exercise

  • Make a list of five ordinary situations. Eating in a restaurant. Driving to work. Sitting at your desk. Washing dishes.
  • With each situation brain storm five extraordinary events that might happen in that situation.
  • Choose one situation and one event and write that scene. Dont get caught up with reality or money or that could never happen. Just write the scene.

Here is a great example of what I mean by taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. In this video a man makes tea. That’s it. And yet the manner in which he makes tea is far from ordinary….

 

Are You Invisible?

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I dramaturge a community project t in which playwrights write plays based on a historical locally connected topic. It’s the hardest kind of play to write especially for the beginner because they have to take research and make it sound natural and organic.

How do you combine information you really want the audience to know and theatrical writing effectively?

What often happens is the dialogue comes across as informational.  Dear brother, I can’t wear stockings, it’s 1942. There’s a war on don’t you know. It sounds like the playwright lecturing directly to the audience – here is information you need to understand in order to get this moment. It doesn’t sound like organic dialogue that would happen in natural conversation.

Are you invisible in your work?

Are you? Does your dialogue sound like natural organic conversation or are you trying to direct your audience experience? If that’s your calling, then you should be on stage instead of behind the scenes. One of the jobs of the playwright is to disappear.

Certainly you need  a point of view.  You need a reason for writing. A thesis. And you want to communicate your reason to an audience. But your characters should not, and cannot act as your mouthpiece. They are not shills for your point of view. They have to have their own voice and their own personality.

It’s not easy to write this way. It’s difficult to imprint your thesis on a variety of characters sharing a story and make it seem completely natural at the same time.

So how do you do it?

  1. Develop your characters fully. Make them specific, make them unique, make them three dimensional and most importantly, give them enough details so that they differ from you and your personality.
  2. Develop a clear character want. If you have a character expressing your personal point of view, make sure they express that point of view via a defined want. In that way the character is more than a mouthpiece. They have drive, they have reason, they have purpose beyond what you want them to say.
  3. Never have one character say to another “….do you remember…?” or,  “as you know….”.  these are give away phrases that what comes next is not something the character would ever say, it’s something the playwright wants the audience to know. And that is neither natural or organic.

Are you invisible in your work? Why or why not?

Discipline or Devotion?

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I ran a half marathon yesterday. It’s my second of the year. I did pretty well (for me) with the first half marathon but there were some problems :

  1. I didn’t fuel properly leading me to severely run out of steam in the second hour.
  2. I didn’t stretch properly in the weeks leading up to the race leaving me with screaming hips.
  3. I went out way to fast in the first hour leading to the same steam problem in #1.

For this second race, I’ve spent the past two months correcting these problems. Practicing with different types of fuel. Stretching at least six days a week. Working with a timer to get the pacing down.

I was psyched for this race, I had a plan ready to execute. I was ready to roll. Except for one thing. The one thing I didn’t prepare for.

Hills.

The first three miles for this half went uphill. Let me repeat that. I ran uphill for three miles.  Half an hour. Up hill.

Every plan went out the window. Well, except for the going slow in the first 30 minutes plan. That was inevitable. But after a half an hour running straight up hill (UP. HILL.) My legs weren’t all that keen to continue to run another 10.1 miles. Neither was I.

And yet I did. I wanted to quit. I thought about walking the rest of the race.  But I didn’t. I was determined to carry through and finish.

I’m not a disciplined runner. I only run 3-4 times a week,  I’m not the ideal shape or weight to be a great runner. I don’t have any plans to change these things.

I am a determined runner. I know how to get the job done. When my plans for the race went awry,  I had to decide quickly how I was going to handle the rest of the race. I decided to enjoy my surroundings, take in the day, put a smile on my face and keep running.

I am a devoted runner. I can’t believe I have the capacity and the ability to run for over two hours and not feel like falling apart after. I love how running makes me feel. I miss it when I don’t do it regularly.

What kind of writer are you? Disciplined? Determined? Devoted?

As I write about my race, I see the same patterns in how I write.

I’m not a disciplined writer. I don’t write for hours at a time, every day. I don’t write at a desk. I have gone for a month without writing and not felt bad about it at all.

I am a determined writer. I know how to get the job done with a piece. Deadlines work for me. Often there’s no one else pushing me but my internal deadline and I’ll feel guilty if I don’t meet it.

I am a devoted writer. Writing is the thing I love to do. It’s the most important activity in my life. I work to make sure writing is not a chore or a task. I never want to be a slave to writing, I want to enjoy it. That means, perhaps, my writing isn’t as successful as it could be. Or as well known as it could be. But I do know it means I’ll never be a regretful writer.

Who are you? Disciplined? Devoted? Determined?

What type of writer do you strive to be?

What type of writer do you want to be?

What type of writing works best for you? 

The 12 Most Pervasive Lies About Creativity

I wrote this post “The 12 Most Pervasive Lies About Creativity” over on 12most.com and the reaction has been pretty amazing. There are lots of folks out there who strongly believe  we need to debunk the definition of the word. I couldn’t agree more. There’s a lot of lying going on.

“Creativity only happens in the arts”

There is more than one way to be a creative person and to find creativity in your life. It’s not about picking up a pen or a paint brush, it’s simply looking at the world or a problem in a new way. How many times a day do people have to come up with a new way to solve a problem?

“Creativity only happens to special people”

When people tell me that they think they’re not creative, it’s like they feel something’s missing. They don’t have the right part. I wish I could change their mind and I wish I could show them how easy it is to find creativity within.

“Creative people don’t fail”

Creativity isn’t pretty. It’s messy, it’s full of mistakes. It’s trial and error. All these things are great for your brain. It’s good to fail. The only way to grow is to fail over and over again.

Check out the rest at 12most.com

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What do you want your Play to do?

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It’s a simple question. It’s something that writers, in this case playwrights, forget to ask.

What do you want your play to do?

What do I mean by that. You have a play, it’s being produced, there’s an audience, they are on the receiving end of your words and…. what?

  • Do you want your play to inspire?
  • Do you want your play to enrage?
  • Do you want your play to inform?
  • Do you want your play to make them laugh? Forget their troubles?

All of these answers are valid, so long as you choose one. Knowing what you want your play to do gives your work a purpose. A drive. There has to be more to your work than just  – you know, I want my stuff done, just getting it out there, it doesn’t mean anything,  you know.

No. I don’t know. You need to know why your writing, what you want to achieve with your work, how you want your audience to act.  And it doesn’t have to be political or epic or grandiose. To bring joy is a great action for your play.

This knowledge will give focus to your writing. It will curtail writers block. If you have the why and you have the endgame you can reference each when addressing a problem.  If character X does Y will that accomplish Z?

Are you working on something right now? Ask the question. Write it at the top of a fresh piece of paper. How easy or difficult is it to answer?

What do you want your play to do?