Playwriting/DramaChapter 5The Portable MFA in Creative WritingCreative Writing ENG 211
Why Write a Play?• One reason to write a play is tochange the world.• Plays are often well received if theaudience have knowledge of thesubject matter of the play.
The Subject• The subject can be anything.• It has to be about people whostruggle so they can relate.• Must set up an objective and anobstacle in order to create dramaticconflict.• The conflict must be pushed to itsfurthest believable extreme.
The Subject Continued• The characters must be able toobtain urgency to pursue andobjective, or their failure shouldhave resounding psychic andemotional implications and universalramifications.• Along the way there should be a fewreversals and revelations.
The Subject Continued• ―Through the plot twists, thedramatic tension builds until thewriter gets to the unpredictable,climactic ending that, in hindsight,was inevitable from the start.‖
The Premise• Need to understand what the subjectwill be, what he/she will do, and whathe/she will face.• The objective is to be fraught withobstacles the character has toconfront and maybe overcome.
Theatricality• The difference with plays is thatchange and transformation can occurright in front of the audience’s eyeswithout any tricks or pyrotechnics.• Writers must write with the storybeing a play and not a movie or TVshow because the writing is specificto its genre.
The Process• The play will often change as it iswritten because there may bechoices made that do not work, soyou must be willing to go back and getit right.• Once the play is written, finishingcan often be one of the mostdifficult parts because some writershave a hard time brining things to aclose or figuring how it should close.
Keep It Simple Stupid• It is important to keep the play withan understandable and simple premisebut keep the premise urgent,present, as well as clear.• Make sure this does not mean todummy something down or make ittoo simplistic.
Continued• If the play seems to be taking adifferent directions, it does notmean the writer cannot change thedestination.• Many writer begin with the endbecause if they know where they aregoing to end up, then figuring outwhere to start and how to get there.
Continued• The basic concepts of dramaticstructure should be used.• It is best to write the first draft asquickly as possible in order to get theinformation down so that there is atleast a skeleton of the story to workoff of and rework.
Setting• The setting should be clearlydescribed and kept as simple aspossible so that there is no room forinterpretation.• The lack of interpretation will makesure what the writer envisioned asthe setting to be what he/shewanted.
Craft and Structure• The goal is to absorb and put to usethe dramatic structure so that itdoes not give the reader theimpression of being artificially putinto the play.• This structure will become the basicsof what the writer will placethoughts, feelings, ideas, andinsights.
Craft and StructureContinued.• Plays must have universal andcomprehensible information for allviewers with aspects that come fromlife in general.• There is clearly a beginning, middle,and end like all stories.
Craft and StructureContinued• The basics of craft are: dramaticstructure, character development,objectives, and stakes.
The Basic Elements ofDramatic Writing• The writers job is to dramatize sometype of conflict that stems from thecharacter’s desire to act on anurgent want, need, or desire—basically the character’s objectives.• Objectives should be specific andconcrete.
The Basic Elements ofDramatic Writing Cont.• Basically stated:Objectives + Obstacles= Conflict• Conflict is created by interactionbetween a character’s dramaticaction and the obstacles to hisobjective.
The Basic Elements ofDramatic Writing Cont.• In order to succeed at play writing,the individual must be able toembrace, build, and manipulateconflict within the drama.• Dramatic action is not physicalactivities onstage.
How Not to DramatizeConflict• Do not have characters givenexposition of past events that do nottie into the objectives or obstaclesthey are facing.• Do not put in characters or scenesthat do not take the dramatic actionforward.
How Not to DramatizeConflict Continued• Do not have the characters refer tooffstage characters that do notrelate the scene taking place onstage at the time.• The central character needs to actupon the world around him/her.
Character• Sometimes is it easiest to buildcharacters off of the individuals thatthe writer already knows becausewhat they sound like and how theyact. This makes them more believableand the motivation understandable.• Characters may also be bits andpieces of different people or acombination of real and fictionalpeople.
Character Continued• The individual writing the play mustlove the characters he/she createsor at least be able to put his/herselfin the character’s shoes or it comesoff as just being a vendetta againstthe individual. This could make thecharacter very one-sided and flat.
Character Continued• The characters will preform tasksand speak words that will further theplot as well as revealing theirthoughts and feelings.• They must serve a purpose.
Monologue• The monologue is a combination ofstage directions and the onstagepresence of another character whodoes not speak.• It is when one character speaks foran extended period of time withoutbeing interrupted.
Constructing the Scene• The friction created when thedramatic elements of objective andobstacle collide the is where drama iscreated.• When the character’s goal formeeting an objective is impeded bysome obstacle in his/her way, theconflict will result on how he/sherevolves the situation.
Constructing a SceneContinued• There are three ways to resolve anobstacle:– The objective is achieved– The objective is not achieved– The objective is rendered irrelevant orsuperseded by a new objective.
Constructing a SceneContinued• Each scene should answer onedramatic question that leads thereader into a new question thatraises the stakes for thecharacter(s).• A scene has several dramatic beats—or small dramatic units.
Constructing a SceneContinued• Every scene must have dramatictension—what happens when thecharacter confronts an obstacle inpursuit of his/her ultimate objective.• In order to keep the tension going,the writer must find a way to raisethe stakes for the character thatstop him/her from achieving theobjective become increasingly urgent.
Constructing a SceneContinued• In order to increase the urgency, thewriter needs to make the objectivemore personal, specific, or necessaryfor the character’s well-being.• There is also a tension of opposites,which is the conflict between whatthe character hopes and fears.• The tension of opposites should be inevery scene. As hope builds, fearincreases.
Dialogue• Dialogue contains all the basicelements of scene where the readercan identify an objective, anobstacle, and a raising of dramatictension.• There may also be a reversal wherethe conflict is caused from therelationship between two characterswhere the relationship shifts at theend of the scene.
Dialogue Continued• All dialogue must have dramatizedconflict.• All writers must use dialogue todevelop character, instigate conflict,convey dramatic action, provideexposition, and dramatize subtext.
Dramatizing Expositionand Creating Subtext• Exposition establishes provides theaudience with the vital informationthat contextualizes the events thatoccurred before the present scenethat may have contained the conflictthe occurs in present time.
Dramatizing Exposition andCreating Subtext Continued• ―Good exposition elevates theurgency of a scene’s dramaticconflict and interacts with thecharacter’s objective.‖ MFA pg. 259• Bad exposition prevents the conflictfrom being clearly presented anddrains tension from a scene.
Dramatizing Exposition andCreating Subtext Continued• Exposition can add fuel to thedramatic conflict, help to move thestory development along, raise thestakes for the protagonist, andincrease the tension between theopposite characters.• Any information that the writer feelsis important should be stated at leasttwice.
Dramatizing Exposition andCreating Subtext Continued• Subtext is the unconscious,instinctive, and subtle unspokenobjectives that lurk just beneath thesurface of what is clearly stated orexplicit. It is part of our everydaylives.• It activates the drama by creatingemotional urgency to both superficialand tangible events or circumstances.
Dramatic Reversals• ―Reversals increase the urgency ofthe dramatic action by turning it in anew direction.‖ MFA pg. 262• They are very useful in propelling thestory forward and showing characterdevelopment through the dramaticconflict that arises.
Dramatic ReversalsContinued• They occur when the characterattains his/her objective only torealize things are completelyopposite what they were thought tobe true.
Revision• Anything that does not fuel thedramatic conflict or move the storyforward to completion should be cut.• Every scene should have an objectiveand an obstacle.