Building Your Play
Theory and Practice for the Beginning Playwright
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: Southern Illinois University Press
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Many voices are heard in this book besides mine, and more hands than my two have gone into shaping it. Kristine Priddy at Southern Illinois University Press made it happen. John Wilson made it better. Wayne Larsen made it easy. And...
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To begin with, this book is primarily designed for the beginning playwright, somebody who has probably been in a few plays, has worked backstage once or twice, reads plays, and in general loves theater. Perhaps you are in a course at school, or perhaps you saw a production of a play that inspired you, or perhaps itâ€™s something you always wanted to try...
Part One: The Fundamentals
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1. Is It a Play?
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Where do we begin? The first thing we need to do is understand what exactly it is weâ€™re creating here. Weâ€™re not creating a novel, a film, a painting, a poem, or even a short story. A play is a unique art form and has important features. So where do you start? You can start in any number of places. You know an interesting story you think would be stageworthy. You know...
2. The Four Keys
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Youâ€™re pretty sure what you have is a play: Itâ€™s an event that starts someplace and ends someplace different, and there is definitely a change involved. Good start: youâ€™ve created a box; you have a situation you can work with. Now we need to understand how to fill it; how to make this event interesting, compelling, and...
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Actors learn this almost from the first day of beginnerâ€™s class: in every playâ€”indeed, in every sceneâ€”the characters they portray want something. They are reaching for a goal. Sometimes that goal is very small and contained within the moment: I want to get you to give me that apple. Sometimes that goal is very large and runs through the whole play:...
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The first and primary thing that obstacles do, of course, is keep your play interesting. However, there is a second and equally important function that obstacles serve, and that is to enrich the playâ€™s characterization. If you recall, in the last chapter we came to realize that characters can often be defined by the goals they create...
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How many strategies do you need? Where do they come from? How do you best use them? Weâ€™ll answer these questions one at a time, but first please notice that, just like goals and obstacles, strategies come in many sizes; you might say that the â€śsizeâ€ť of the strategy pretty much depends on the â€śsizeâ€ť of the obstacle it is dealing with. Thus, Dorothy sets up a...
Part Two: Putting Them Together
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Weâ€™ve examined the basic elements that underlie every traditional well-made play, these being the four keys, and noted that they are the basic building blocks of your playâ€™s structure. Now letâ€™s consider how best to use them. Weâ€™ll answer such questions as: How do you put all of these components into a whole play? How do you give them shape and coherence? How...
7. The Miniplay
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The first part of this book examined four key elements that are involved in every plot: agent of action, goal, obstacles, and strategies. Our discussion of the Freytag pyramid uncovered how a plot is laid out over the whole course of the play: that is, how the agent of action continually uses new strategies to deal with obstacles as they appear, in order to achieve...
8. Dramatic Questions
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The lesson is simple: the single most important element is suspense, making the audience anxious to pay close attention to the action in order to find out what comes next. However, weâ€™re still a bit off the mark. The question still remains: Suspense about what? Anticipation for what? And, most important, how do you create it?...
Part Three: Some Advanced Tricks
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9. The Pigeon Sister
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Let me describe the play to you if you donâ€™t know it, or refresh your memory if you do. Both Felix and Oscar are divorced men, who in the course of the first act, decide to live together. One of them is a freewheeling, easy-going slob who takes life as it is. Thatâ€™s Oscar. The other, Felix, is the complete opposite: anal-retentive, compulsively neat, and a bit...
10. The Exposition Pig
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Every writer of realistic plays comes up against this problem sooner or later: How on earth do you reveal to the audience the information they need in order to understand whatâ€™s going on? Where does the action take place? Who are these people; what are their names; and what are they doing in this room? What happened in the past that makes everybody so upset? What time is it, if it matters? What actually...
11. Miscellaneous Tricks
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This chapter is a catch-all for a number of useful tricks that often help in early drafts of a play. Sometimes you can play with these first, to help you generate ideas, but they are more helpful when youâ€™re working on revisions. Applying one or more of them to your play or idea can often shed light on how to solve trouble spots. I call them the four â€śTâ€™sâ€ť:...
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Earlier, when we spoke about plot, we looked briefly at the six elements Aristotle attributed to good drama. Plot, of course, came in first. Second is characterâ€”the depiction of more or less real people, about whom we often use the term lifelike, which is to say we expect them to function like actual living people, have well-rounded personalities, and operate according to some laws of logic and psychology. This is already...
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Plays are not written to be read but to be performed. What is written on the page never presents the same way when the play is up on its feet and actors are delivering the lines, moving around, playing the moments. Dialogue that looks right when written may be awkward and difficult to speak. Scenes that seem at first to make sense come across to the audience as confusing,...
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Page Count: 192
Illustrations: 1 line drawing
Publication Year: 2010