Playwriting

Now that we’ve discussed dramatic structure and looked at how it works in All My Sons, it’s time for you to write your own play. I don’t expect professional work out of any of you. What I do expect is that you will try your best, experiment, and above all, have fun.

The first step of the assignment is simply to come up with characters, conflict, and a basic story line. Your final play may deviate from this story line – that’s okay. But getting some ideas down on paper will make the process easier to complete.

Step one is to choose your characters. You need at least two characters, since drama is about conflict, and you should limit yourself to no more than four characters. Remember that art is selection. Limiting your choices will force you to do more with the choices you’ve made.

At this point your characters can be types: a student, a professor, a waitress, a mechanic. Don’t just choose names: Gary, Sheila, Fred. Choose some characteristics for Gary, Sheila, and Fred. Make specific choices about who these characters are, and what they want. Note: The characters do not need to be human. If you want to write a play about dogs or about vegetables in a salad, that’s fine. But they need to be believable vegetables in a salad, with conflicting needs.

Once you have chosen your characters, write a brief description of each one. Use the character descriptionsinAll My Sons as a guide. For example, on pp. 5-6, Arthur Miller doesn’t just describe Joe Keller physically, he tells us a little about him. There are descriptions of Jim Bayliss and Frank Lubey on p. 6 as well.

Next, choose a setting. The more specific a setting you choose, the better off you will be. Limit yourself to onesetting. Remember, you are writing for the stage. This is not a film or television script. No moving cars; no running from one location to another.Now write a brief description of your setting.Use the description of the setting in All My Sons, as a guide.Don’t worry about stage right and left, upstage and down. DO include the “character” of the place.

Third, create conflict. To do this, determine objectives for your characters. What does each one want? The best conflicts arise out of character. Only two of your characters need to be in direct conflict. Make sure your characters’ objectives are positive – what a character wants, not what a character doesn’twant.

Finally, develop a basic story line for your play. Work with the four stage outline below. This short play, Meatball Sandwich, is posted on D2L.

Step One: Introduce characters and setting
•    Holly and Raymond are in a French restaurant.
•    Holly is nervous and excited about hosting a Chef-Off.
•    Raymond is hungry and wants something to eat.

Step Two: Introduce conflict/problem for the characters.
•    Holly tries to impress the crowd with her knowledge of French food. Her pronunciation is terrible.
•    The Waiter starts bringing out food.
•    Raymond complains about the food and the service.
•    Holly is embarrassed by Raymond and plays up to the Waiter.

Step Three: Characters do something about conflict/problem.
•    Holly starts getting drunk and flirts with the Waiter.
•    Raymond asks the Waiter for a meatball sandwich.
•    The Waiter flirts back with Holly.
•    Raymond and the Waiter fight over the meatball sandwich.

Step Four: Resolution
•    Raymond tells Holly they’re leaving.
•    Holly stays behind with Waiter.
•    Raymond leaves restaurant without Holly.

Keep your story simple. Remember that this play is no longer than 10 minutes. Focus on a story that can be told in that time. When you write the actual script, you can add more development.

Some additional guidelines:
No more than two scenes.
We learn about characters by what they say and do. No narrators.
No phone conversations as a substitution for face to face interaction. The telephone is the coward’s way out!
Limit the action to what can be physically played out on stage. These are plays, not movies.

The play can be dramatic or comedic. It can be realistic or nonrealistic. My only guideline is that you need to be serious about it. The play doesn’t have to be serious, but YOU should be. You can write a wacky scene while still being serious about doing the work.

You can see some examples of 10 minute plays online at http://www.10-minute-plays.com/
That site also offers some good guidelines for short play construction. Links to this site are provided in the Playwriting module on D2L.

Part one of this assignment is due on Thursday, Feb20. Your paper must include descriptions of ALL your characters and of the setting, and an outline of the plot, as shown above. Do not give me a first draft of your play. The final play will be due on ThursdayMarch 13.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.

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