|This topic sheet was originally
devised for the Exciting
Writing for Theatre course. There is a table
of links to other teaching resources towards the bottom
of this page.
No course in writing for theatre would be complete
without some consideration of plot. In view of the time limitations
of the present course, participants are encouraged to review the
materials from the Exciting Plot Writing
course, which explore plot writing techniques in some depth.
For the purposes of this evening's class, let
us consider how to sketch plot ideas quickly from the starting
point of characters. In other words, having already outlined a
few interesting characters and created some dialogue between them,
how can we begin to build a plot around them?
Arguably the most useful technique of all is
to envisage the publicity materials that advertise one's play
and proceed to work back from there.
Such materials are invariably designed to convey
the broad thrust of the play without giving away the plot. Consider
for instance the following proposition:
Super Sal explores the conflict between a
woman's maternal instincts and desire for career. At 25, Sally
is single, successful and well-off. But a seemingly innocent encounter
with an insurance salesman is to have far-reaching consequences
in her life...
This description took only a few
minutes to draft, and yet it represents a major leap forward in
the creative process for a number of reasons:
- It captures the all important potential for conflict, both
within the character of the woman herself and (perhaps) between
the woman and the insurance salesman.
- The suggestion of far-reaching consequences promises that
there will be a significant character journey in the course
of the play.
- The playwright can prevent weeks of wasted effort by establishing
at the outset that the play is worth writing.
- The style of the description, designed to hook the reader
by raising issues that can only be resolved by seeing the play,
similarly engages the writer in the task of creating a meaningful
and interesting plot.
When writing such descriptions, it may be useful to think in
terms of familiar but interesting plot devices.
Consider, for instance, how the Super Sal description might be
continued. The publicity materials are unlikely to say what the
far-reaching consequences are for Sally, but the potential
audience might be increasingly interested to know some of the
milestones along the way: rape, betrayal, murder?
The point is that a very convincing plot may be constructed simply
by exploring such issues within the context of the characters
already sketched and the essential theme of the play (in this
case, the conflict between career and motherhood). It is unlikely
that more than a few of the components will ever be entirely original,
but there is limitless scope for creativity when familiar themes
are given fresh context.