working you into a lather


– 30 March 2014 –

There has been a lot of conversation in my corner of the world, lately, as to what is a play versus what isn’t.  

I hold that a play, no matter its structure, must have a beginning, middle, transformation, and end. I’m not speaking linearly, David Hare‘s brilliant PLENTY jumps all over in time and lives by this underlying tenet. Harold Pinter‘s BETRAYAL, too. MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG (Kaufman & Hart)? Don’t get me started.

I hold also that there must be some sort of obstacle, both for each character and in the narrative itself. And I hold that every story, any story, can be parsed down to its component parts. Indeed, that’s how apprentices learned from the Old Masters painters and, to this day, art students of all ages learn technique. Writers, take a leaf from their book.


I’ve just been shown this excellent reduction, If WWI was a bar fight.

Here’s this week’s prompt, really more of an exercise, but you’ll thank me later (if cursing me while).

  1. Pick a world event. Any world event. Using the technique in the WWI model, parse that event down to its simplest elements.
  2. Now, make some observations about character traits from the characters’ activities.
  3. Consider what story or stories from your own life and times, or your reading, or your fantasies, the reduced play and characters resemble.
  4. Reduce that event in the same way.
  5. Write the play.

Sound like too much work?  It’s precisely the model Stephen Karam used for SONS OF THE PROPHET, a Pulitzer Prize finalist.*

I’m not guaranteeing that if you follow this model, you’ll gain fame, fortune, or even productions. If you do, however, please remember to give me a nod.



*Disclaimer: I do not know Mr. Karam personally, and nor am I privvy to his writing technique. My observation was made after seeing a production of his play, whose structure seemed beautifully obvious to me. I like and respect this play a great deal.

©2014 all rights reserved

Image Parsing computer








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