WORD ON THE STREET

5 Tips for Playwrights

January 31, 2018

 

          Sometimes writing comes easy; sometimes it most certainly doesn’t. I personally find that, more often than not, I’m just too busy to really feel like writing even if I come up with what I think is a great idea, and here are some things that I feel have helped me flex my creative muscles when it comes to putting words on paper. Hopefully they help all of you out as well!

 

 

1. Write often… and sometimes badly.

          If you’re planning on pursuing a career in any kind of writing (or even just doing it for funsies) then it’s a good idea to get yourself used to writing a lot. As with any kind of exercise (and it most certainly is exercise), most people aren’t immediately good at every aspect of writing. To become discouraged because your initial efforts aren’t up to scratch when compared with Maya Angelou or J.R.R. Tolkien or Stephen King or August Wilson or any number of other successful and talented writers is like giving up because you couldn’t beat Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps at their respective best events in the Olympics. It’s unrealistic and unfair to yourself to expect amazing work every time, and if you continue to work at it you’ll inevitably improve.

          I’m not saying you should intentionally be trying to suck (although that in and of itself might be an interesting learning experience and might give you some valuable insight) but it’s completely okay to have a few missteps while you’re building up the habit of writing more and more often. The more you write, the likelier you’ll improve and/or write something awesome, and the easier it will be to start to write each time.

 

 

2. Don’t just write plays.

          Writing plays is great, but in restricting yourself to a specific medium you might miss out on a broad range of different techniques and writing devices that are totally applicable in playwriting. You might consider yourself a dramatic writer, but there’s absolutely no reason you can’t throw in a silly limerick here and there because that can heighten the tension of a scene if used well. A character’s pathos might be all the more visible to the audience because their struggle reminds them of a nursery rhyme from when they were kids, or they might be trying to write a song themselves about whatever topic you’ve decided is important to them. All of these things can communicate beautifully complex elements of a play to an audience without you needing to use expository dialogue.

          Your writing will never suffer from you learning to do other things; again, just look at everything that Maya Angelou did in her life! Once you’re done with that, look up the original meaning and phrasing of the term “jack of all trades” and the definition of “polymath”; trust me, you’ll be doing yourself a favor by learning more skills (related to writing and otherwise).

"The more people see your work, the more people will be able to give you valuable input"

3. Write about everything (not just what you know) but be aware of what you’re writing.

          Nobody knows everything about a given topic; I feel pretty confident in saying this because we have no way of knowing exactly what we don’t know (sort of paraphrasing Socrates a little, there), so anyone who tells you “write what you know” is unknowingly giving you a massive restriction on what you can and can’t do. If everyone wrote what they knew, fiction would be incredibly repetitive and more likely than not unbelievably boring… actually, technically nothing would be fiction if you take it literally.

          In any case, you should make a point of exploring topics you don’t know and don’t understand, but there is a pretty significant caveat; do honor to that which is your topic. Don’t write whatever pops into your head because it will invariably be shaped by the little prejudices that everyone has. If you write about things you don’t know without even trying to understand then you will write clichés and come off like a jackass to whoever reads or watches your work. I’m not saying you need to “get it” or be a part of whatever community you may be writing about necessarily, but if you, for example, start writing about mental illness and dismissing everyone with a diagnosis as just being “crazy” then you’re not doing yourself or your topic any good. There may be an audience for that but you’ll also piss off a lot of people because it will be obvious that there was no attempt to understand your subject or to empathize with the people whose life experiences actually reflect events in your writing. Keep in mind that there’s a huge difference between the author being dismissive and a character being dismissive, however; the latter can actually show an awareness and sensitivity to the topic on the part of the author.

 

 

4. Show your work around.

          The more people see your work, the more people will be able to give you valuable input, or decide to work with you, or even decide they want to produce your script. Even just talking through an idea for a script or a sketch could impress someone enough that they remember you later on, and that can be a huge factor down the road. By having people (who are willing to do so, obviously) read through your work, you’ll get a feel for how people react to your own individual writing style and whether or not your work needs any tweaks.

 

 

5. If you have an idea, write it down when it comes to you.

          This one seems to me like it should be the most obvious, but it’s also the tip that I myself am guilty of following the least. We’ve all had nights when an idea pops into our head and we told ourselves “Oh no, I’ll remember it in the morning and work on it then”, only to completely forget that we even had an idea. It happens to me so often that I’ve started keeping a notebook by my bed. It happens at night, during the day, in class; literally all the time. The more times you manage to catch yourself and jot down a few quick notes, the more times you’ll be able to remember it later and possibly write a stellar piece using that idea!

 

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