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Mystery & Drama

Reflections on Writing a Ten Minute Play

The Granddaddy of American Short Play

Downtown New York

Downtown New York (Photo credit: sreevishnu)

Festivals As Catalyst for Action

The deadline for submitting an entry for the 38th Annual Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival has come and gone. Forty finalists will be chosen by a reading panel from over 900 submissions.  The forty finalist plays will be performed live in a week long festival in New York, the mecca of American Theater,  to determine which six will remain standing at the end.  It’s tremendously exciting to contemplate winning a spot in the final half dozen, and I won’t spoil my fun with doubt that my entry “Smoke” has the remotest chance.  But, credit the French OOB Festival for creating my impetus for putting pen to paper at all.

How did I find my story?

It came from another story.  I had a full length play that was in the drawer for quite a while, but I thought it still had potential.  It was set in a run down bar and grill.  I have been tweaking it for months, years.  One interesting tweak had to do with going after the building with a bulldozer in order to transform it into a modern upscale restaurant. This transformation would be a metaphor for remodeling the primary character relationship in the play.  So, I started out with a man and a woman in a run down bar and grill. Somehow these two people would change things by altering the bar.  That was it.

Do Complications Make a Story?

As soon as I had my characters on their feet, they needed to start talking and moving.  That’s what a play is.  I decided the woman would be advising the man on the commercial potential for the bar.  But the possibilities for the bar would to be secondary to the possibilities for the characters.  My mind leaped to my brother’s experience of being contacted by an old girlfriend from high school days.  This morphed into the complications such a meeting create for the man and his wife. So, now I had three characters, man and wife and old girlfriend.

Does the Form Affect the Story?

Without question it does.  A character does something that provokes a response from another character.  In the play form, this “something” is words or physical action. The playwright can “show” what is happening through dialogue or through written stage directions.  Unlike a short story, there is no opportunity to have a character meditate or remember or do something else that takes place in the thoughts of a character.  Every written expression in the play script is a line of dialogue or a stage direction that propels the story forward.  And so, a play can be thought of as the purest form of story telling. The playwright needs to convey all manner of emotions, remembrance, deceit, fear, etc. etc. directly through dialogue and written stage directions.

So, What Happened?

I put my characters on their feet.  I gave them things to say and things to do. I implied in dialogue that they were lying, that they were nervous, cheeky, scared, or something else to convey that they could lose what they wanted most.  It was completely free form except the dialogue had to sound right and feel true.  One false word and I was dead.

What else?

One line of dialogue led to the next.  I started up a rhythm.  It flowed. But suddenly a line would feel wrong. I’d tweak it and go on.  To the end.  Then I seized up. What happens at the end? What must happen to make this a real story.  What is a real story? The lead character must change? A lesson must be learned?  I don’t know. But, for this story of mine, written in the 10 minute play form, I have recorded what ‘went down’ under a certain set of circumstances.  If it all rings true to the reader it is satisfying, or it’s disturbing but believable, or some other variation of this.  It’s something.  Something  that happened in the course of the life of these characters.  And it adds to the cumulative truth.

What do you think?

Are you motivated to try writing in the purest form of storytelling?

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  1. Really well done, Larry… Much good luck to you.
    Yes, I’m motivated but will continue trying to finish my book.
    Have a great weekend.
    Billy Ray

    1. Hi Billy Ray — I’m behind the times. Keep plugging on the new book.
      Larry Crane recently posted..Reflections on Writing a Ten Minute PlayMy Profile

  2. I have thought in the past of writing a play. But then I get caught up with other things and the passing thought leaves me again.

    I like this view of your process. Writing is writing, we all must find that truth in our story. One line leads to the next line.
    Jon Jefferson recently posted..Analysis of BaseballMy Profile

    1. Hi Jon – In a sense it’s good and productive to get your story moving and then just keep up the pace, but I think at some point the story really needs to go somewhere. That’s one of my main points: to go where? When you answer that you have a story seems to me.
      Larry Crane recently posted..Reflections on Writing a Ten Minute PlayMy Profile

  3. I think I most struggle with keeping up the pace, and when that happens, the lack of momentum really starts to show in the writing because the characters stop going anywhere. Process posts like this are always a great glimpse into a fellow writer’s mind. No two are alike, that’s for sure!
    Jeri recently posted..The Allure of Magnetic PoetryMy Profile

    1. Hi Jeri – I think the writer can feel a false sense of security when s/he gets the story going and then makes ‘keeping up the pace’ the objective.
      The problem is: the pace is not the objective.
      Larry Crane recently posted..Reflections on Writing a Ten Minute PlayMy Profile

  4. OK, I have to admit this very much intrigued me. I struggle mightily with writing a short story for my blog once a week. Being dyslexic does present certain challenges. Nevertheless, I did find this really fascinating.

    PS: I do wish the best of luck with the competition. 🙂
    Susan Cooper recently posted..Cameron Hughes Lot 311 Moscato d’Asti 2011: WineMy Profile

    1. Hi Susan – I guess writing a play can be intimidating if you’ve never done one before. But, once you have the format conventions down, it becomes a matter of writing a story that unfolds in the dialogue and physical movement of the characters. At least, this is the writing part of it. When it’s being performed onstage, the actors bring dimensions such as attitude into play. One thing you could do to explore this form of story telling is to go to Amazon and buy one of the Samuel French Off Off Broadway Festival Plays booklets and have a look at the plays that emerged as the best of those submitted. It may not be so intimidating any more.

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