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Emotionally Engage

If you think about plays you’ve enjoyed, that stay with you, and try and work out why they were memorable, the likelihood is that it’s because they were emotionally engaging. Good plays make us feel. They make us care about the characters, and they usually do so by putting the characters in compromising positions. The stakes need to be high, i.e. the characters must be making decisions which effect their lives in a major way. There’s a knock at the door. If your protagonist doesn’t answer, then what? Make the stakes high. It can’t just be that he’ll miss his amazon delivery…. unless the Amazon delivery is life saving drugs.

Let’s look at a bigger example. A play in which two teenagers falls in love in adverse circumstances, where they’re threatened with banishment if they stay together makes us care because the stakes are high. Loss is imminent. They must make a choice- stay together and lose their families or be apart forever. That is a good play. It is, of course, Romeo and Juliet. In contrast, a play in which two teenagers fall in love and no one objects, in which the biggest dramas are the usual trivial tiffs one might expect in real life, is not a memorable story. In simple terms, they are not risking enough. Of course, this is not to say plays ought to be full of life-threatening scenarios. However, they ought to grow towards a climax where we feel the characters lives will be changed fundamentally by the outcomes.

In this exercise, we look at how to ensure your characters have enough to battle against to give them an engaging journey, and to make sure the audience are drawn in to the story.

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Gas Ring – the game

A quick exercise to show the importance of writing high stakes for your characters when writing a play….

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Exaggerate to accumulate

This is an exercise in what the comedian Stewart Lee calls “exaggerating for comic effect.” He was being…

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Drawing out the comedy

Somebody famously said that writing comedy is harder than writing drama because in comedy you have to do…

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Cut the fluff

There is, of course, no rule that says you should never write dialogue that looks exactly like real…

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The imaginary grunt

Listen in to a real conversation that you are not involved in and note just how much extraneous…

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Writing by not writing: subtext in dialogue

The awkward silences. The times we talk too much while avoiding eye contact. Saying the opposite of what…

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