Observation is your number one tool

ship-81256_1280

What did you observe today?

The best way to never run out of ideas is to have a consistent stream of input. And the best way to have a consistent stream of input is through a habit of observation. Make it a habit to write down one observation every day. What’s come across your world view? What did you see, hear, smell, touch, taste? Don’t worry about where you’ll use this observation. What matters is that you create the habit and you maintain the habit. Observe something, write it down. When you do that, everything becomes an idea for the future.

My Observation

Here’s a conversation I overheard yesterday between a couple:

_________

SHE: That food truck only has mac and cheese.

HE: No they don’t.

SHE: We went and all they had was mac and cheese.

HE: No they don’t.

SHE: We went –

HE: This is a special event.

SHE: I hate mac and cheese.

HE: I SAW their menu. There was NO mac and cheese.

SHE: Really? Can we go look?

HE: Yes.

________

What can you with this: This was pretty much word for word. Even the emphasis.  I did not see the couple, only heard the conversation. The first thing I would do would be to create a relationship profile. Who are they? How long have they been going out? Are they happy? Why was the boyfriend (or husband) so emphatic? Have they been irritable with each other all day? Why? Is this really a conversation about mac and cheese or something else? What’s going to happen tomorrow?

Write an inner monologue for both characters. What are they truly thinking during this conversation?

Never Forget The Audience

group-312408_640

Who are you writing for?

This is an important question when you write. Who are you writing for? What do you want them to get out of your work? How will they be affected by your work?

No matter what kind of writing you do (unless it’s a private diary hidden in a drawer under lock and key) there will always be an audience. It could be an audience of one reader or a theatre full of expectant folks waiting to hear your words. Writing does not and cannot happen in a vaccuum.

Writing is an act of communication.  It’s a two way street.

Many writers miss this point. They’re self-involved in the process – I must express myself. I must tell my story. When a piece doesn’t go well, they blame the audience –  They’re not smart enough, they don’t understand me, they don’t get what I’m writing.

Writing is most effective when the writer focuses outward instead of inward –   I must communicate my story.  There has to be an audience. And more importantly, there has to be a relationship with the audience.

Who do you see when you think of your audience?  

Do you have a specific type of person in mind? A specific group? We are in an era where writers can easily cut out the middle man and hone in on the specifics. Your audience does not have to be a nameless faceless crowd. You can converse via twitter. You can have facebook fans. You can start your own email list and talk to them directly. Gone are the barriers between writer and audience. But it also means there’s nowhere for the writer to hide for good or for ill. Gone are the days where the writer can just sit alone in their room banging away at the old keyboard and never give their audience a second thought.

Exercise

Write a letter to your ideal audience member. How would you introduce your work to them?

 

I’ll never tell you your play sucks

Here’s why.

When I first started out, I had two vivid negative experiences.

  • An artistic director told me “Never send me another play.” He didn’t want to see my work ever again.
  • A second artistic director returned a play to me (which I had submitted for a three week development project) with the note “There is not enough time to fix this play.”

Luckily I’m stubborn. These two experiences only strengthened my resolve to keep writing. Even though as individual events they were devastating, I never considered giving up a writing life. Maybe because I didn’t have a back up plan!  If those AD’s were trying to get me to stop writing, too bad.

I don’t understand the impetus to take someone down with their criticism. It’s not necessary and it’s cruel.

no-68481_1280

Now, that’s not the same as…..

…telling someone they’re great when their play needs work. Sunshine and roses when they’re not warranted is not productive and doesn’t help a playwright move forward. That should be the goal of all criticism: comments that help a writer move forward with their work. If your comments are merely emotion, and negative emotion at that, what’s the point?

The question then may be: “But what if the play is beyond help? Aren’t you doing the writer a disservice by encouraging them to work on it?”

Who am I to make that call? The plays those ADs determined “beyond help”  have both gone on to long lives. What if I had listened to them? What I can do is make sure I’m clear about the work that needs to be done (usually via questions) and what the playwright can do to move forward.

exchange-of-ideas-222787_1280

We all need feedback.

It’s a vial part of the writing process. Writers need feedback to grow their plays. That outside eye can be the turning point between writing a good play or a great play. But feedback can be a tricky tightrope – you have to find the right person. Sometimes you get unexpected feedback you didn’t want to hear – I received  a feedback form from a contest once (a form I didn’t ask for) in which my play was given a D and scrawled across the bottom of the page were the words “I did NOT like this play.”  

We spend so much time on our words that it hurts if they’re not loved unconditionally. It’s easy to only want praise or to disregard feedback that isn’t what we want to hear.

Feedback is a two way street. If I’m going to take care with the comments and questions I give a writer, I expect them to handle those comments with care. But if I’m the writer, and the feedback I receive is unkind with little care, then I toss it aside. That feedback is not worth my time. And that’s how you should handle unkind feedback.

Observation Thursday

Every Thursday I post something I’ve observed. I don’t know when or where I’ll use it but that doesn’t matter. What matters is the consistent habit of making an observation and writing it down. When you start to do that, everything becomes an idea for the future.

What’s your observation?

IMG_20140818_175635026

Observation: Walking by a building in my home town, this was scribbled on the wall and I snapped a pic.  A couple of days later it was scrubbed away.

What can you do with it: The first thing that comes to mind when I read this is “blanket fort.” My second thought is “why would someone want to light a blanket fort on fire?” That’s not nice. That is a kids game gone horribly wrong.

But then again, why would anyone want to set any kind of fort on fire? What is the message behind a fort on fire? Why a fort? A bridge, I can see. A tower, I can see. A fortress, I can see – though those are usually made of stone and kind of hard to burn.  Why burn a fort? Figuratively or literally, neither makes much sense. The metaphor doesn’t gel for me.

And further, why do I need to hear the message of the burning fort? Why steal out in the middle of the night and write the words “Build a fort and set it on fire” on a wall? Those are very specific words. Those are not “for a good time call…” words. Those are not “Jimmy sux” words. This is a call to action message. This is a stand up be counted message. I’m just not sure what for. That’s what I love about it. It’s not obvious, it’s not normal.  That means it could mean anything and everything.

What do you see in this message?

 

Playwriting Exercise: The Office

russia-95311_640

What does your office look like? Does your office represent you or your work? Are you devoid from your office? Or do offices make your skin crawl? Does the thought of being in the same room from 9 to 5 eat away at your soul?

This Imagur album shows people in their offices around the world. Not just the shiny Wall street office. But offices from Russia, Liberia, India, Bolivia, France and more.

I think one of the comments says it best: “No matter where you are in the world, the look of silent desperation of having to work in an office is identical.”

Exercise

Go through the pictures and choose three. Do the following for each picture.

  1. Automatic write on this picture. What comes to mind when you look at it? Don’t self-judge or critique your thoughts, get them on the page.
  2. Describe this office using the five senses. What does it smell like, what are the sounds?
  3. Who is the person in this office? What do they do? How long have they been at this job?
  4. Write the internal monologue for this person. In this moment, what are they thinking? Where are they in their heads? Where do they long to be?
  5. Don’t be bound by the look on their face. Some people put up a wall when they’re in a place they hate. Think about what’s going on behind the wall.

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.

CLOSED

 

THE SURVIVAL KIT

When: July  23. Morning

Observation:  A young couple, I’m guessing boyfriend/girlfriend arguing over the price of a Costco sized container survival kit. It was a 72 hour food and cooking kit. It cost 39.97

What you can do with it: Well the obvious question is, why does this couple think they need a survival kit? What do they need to survive from? They don’t need to survive that badly if they can argue over the price.

So take it from there – it’s the evening of the Apocalypse. There’s chaos all around and this couple is standing in Costco, arguing over the price of the survival kit. The most mundane conversation in the middle of chaos.

Or there is no apocalypse, but one of them fears quite deeply that it’s coming and they need something to be prepared. Write the scene once where the fearful one is the girl and then again where the fearful one is the guy. Give them each something specific and something different to fear that would cause them to think about survival. How does that change the argument about price?

Happy writing!

 

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

THE AFTERMATH

Observation: Take a look at the picture below. This was taken on July 5th, it’s the aftermath of fireworks on the beach where I live.  Now I’m not a regular partaker in home fireworks but to me that seems like a lot of aftermath. How big were these fireworks? Who put them in the sand? Did they know what they were doing? What was the situation that led to these fireworks? The questions continue.

What you can do with it: Decide for yourself if this is an overkill of fireworks or a lacking of fireworks. Go with one or the other, there’s not much dramatic in “it was just the right amount.” And then write a scene between the person who is putting the fireworks in the sand and someone reacting – either that it’s too much or too little. What is the reason for the response? What’s the relationship? Why is it necessary to do their own fireworks instead of go to an actual showing?

 

IMG_20140702_073047778

Orange is the New Character Development

0XIULpP

Did you watch Orange is the New Black  – Season One or Season Two?  Are you sad that you have to wait a whole year for season three? Do you have no idea what I’m talking about – orange is the what?

Every writer should watch this show. Even if you’re not fond of the material or you think they got prison wrong, every writer should watch this show just to study the characters. Orange is the New Black is a character study brought to life.

The show takes place in a women’s prison. Over the course of the two seasons, you not only see what these women are like in prison, for a lot of them, you see who they were in their regular lives and how they landed in jail. It’s not always what you think (pay specific attention to Morello and Sister Jane) and it’s a prime example of how situation and location can change a person. This is vital for writers to know, be aware of, and use.

If you have access to Netflix and you have the chance, sit down and watch Orange with a pen and paper. Pick a character and study her as if you were taking a course on character development.

  • Who is the character? Why did you pick her?
  • What first impression do they make?
  • What assumptions do you make about that character based on how they act?
  • Who do they interact with in the prison?
  • Are they a dominant character or a subservient character?
  • If this character is dominant, how does power affect them?
  • With each episode, what details do you learn about the character?
  • Do you learn why they’re in jail? If so, does the reason surprise you or confirm your assumptions?
  • How does this character act in a desperate situation?
  • Do you empathize with this character? Why or why not?
  • Will this character survive outside of jail?  Why or why not?

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

TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION

Observation: A guy gets out of a van in a rest stop parking lot. We have just pulled in and we’re also getting out of our car at the same time. The guy looks at us and says “Are you good at finding baby mice?” We say no and move on. This is one of the stranger questions I think I’ve ever been asked by a stranger. I don’t know why this guy needed baby mice, or if there were baby mice on the lose in his van, or if that was his way of breaking the ice with another human being. But it made my day as writer because I got to write down the awesome line – Are you good at finding baby mice?

How can you use it? Use it as the first line in a scene. A guy goes up to a girl and asks “Are you good at finding baby mice?” What happens next? How can you make the girl not want to run away screaming (if she does, it’s a short scene.) Now change the character who says the first line – make it a girl who asks the question of a guy. How does the scenario change? You can change it up again by making the question come from a child. Change it up again by giving the first line to a grandmother. Same first line with a vast number of possibilities…. have fun with it, it’s a great way to start  a scene.