So, you have an idea for a play, but you're not sure how to get started with it? Lisa Daly, Co-Producer of Scripts: Ireland's Playwriting Festival, has a few tips for a budding playwright to think about...
Scripts Ireland's Playwriting Festival is our annual four-day festival in Birr Co. Offaly dedicated to new Irish plays - the writing of them, the development and nurturing of them.
As you start with a nugget of an idea, keeping these tips in mind will help you develop your play further. Whether it's a character you can’t stop thinking about, or a situation going on in the world that lights a fire in you... a jumping-off place is all you need.
1) Find a topic
Start with something you know. Something you’re passionate about. There is always room to explore from there, Whether it’s the geography of the setting of your play or a conflict that you have experienced yourself, writing what you know in detail will bring specificity and honesty to your play.
2) Share your work
Find a trusted mentor or a group of writers to share your work with. Have it read out loud. The real work of revising a play happens when the lines are spoken and the characters begin to come to life. You will get so much more out of hearing your play out loud than you will by just reading it on the page.
3) Realistic dialogue
This can be a tricky one. Note the phrasing, slang, and body language your character uses. What is not said in conversation can sometimes speak the loudest. As humans, we usually do not say exactly what we’re thinking. Getting the wording right will help the feel and tone of the play, allowing actors to relate easily to the character.
4) Turn up the pressure cooker
Once you have your characters, don’t make things easy for them! Find ways to create obstacles for them to get exactly what they want. Put them in that pressure cooker, and crank that dial up. This helps aid in developing conflict, moving along the plot, raising the stakes, and having a bigger payoff at the end when the conflict resolves - whether that is happily or tragically. There is no need to tie everything up in the end with a pretty ribbon, letting characters sit in the darkness can be very impactful.
5) So what?
A common question writers ask is, "Why is this day different than any other day?" Why is the play you are writing important? What story are you telling? What is your message, or point of view? Thinking through these questions will help you answer the overall question, "So What?" Creating characters that the audience cares about influences the reaction to the success or demise of a character. What the writer wants to leave the audience with matters, let your point of view shine through!
6) Show don’t tell
Instead of a character relaying a message of what just happened in the other room (Shakespeare was an expert at this!), let the audience see what’s happening in the other room. We want to hear the awkward conversation, see the big confrontation, and feel the hard-hitting silent moment.
7) Forward movement
Not every play needs to be an action-packed thriller, but having the plot move forward will keep your audience engaged. Stagnation and getting caught up in conversations that are the reflections of a character’s inner thoughts can stall the forward motion. Whether it is physical action or subtle inner growth, keep the plot moving forward with each scene.
8) Be ready to cut!
The famous quote, "Kill your darlings" applies here. As you work on your play, sometimes it is necessary to cut your most preciously crafted words. Separating your ego from the play itself will help to look objectively at each line, and how it serves your play. Does a line, although beautifully and poetically devised, help to move forward your plot? Or give the audience imperative information? No? Time to cut it and say goodbye.
9) Less is more
There’s strength in stripping back, keeping to your main point, and not muddling the story with too many subplots.
10) Know the rules, so you can break them
There are a lot of "rules" for playwriting. And these are great to know to give a framework that is known to work. Knowing when to break free from the formula can be key to finding your unique voice as a playwright.
Scripts: Ireland's Playwrighting Festival takes place in Birr Co. Offaly from 7-10 July 2022 - find out more here.