Monday, December 21, 2020

The Murky Middle (Even More Advice)

Aristotle wrote that stories should have a beginning, middle, and end.

Middles can be difficult. You might have a smashing opening to a story or play, but then the energy fizzles. What to put in your middle? When filmwriting, the second reel or act needs to connect the beginning with the ending--as is true of any fiction story or play. Plot-wise, if the beginning includes the exposition, status quo, and inciting incident, the MIDDLE usually includes the rising action to the turning point. The turning point in the fortune(s) of your protagonists/characters usually include either a dark moment or an enlightenment (a character's lowest end, see ACT 3 of Twelfth Night for Malvolio &/or Viola...sort we see Malvolio can fall much further as a result of his pride and arrogance...; or, as an enlightenment, Viola realizes Olivia has fallen in love with her, for example). In a comedy, the dark moment can occur much earlier (even the beginning--see Viola's predicament in Act 1, Scene 2), since we're watching characters OVERCOME a problem or situation. [In a tragedy, we're just reversing this...] The enlightenment for a character (or many characters in a Shakespearean comedy, often occur in the 5th act (the end) as everyone comes together to fix the errors and mistakes of the early complications found in Acts 1-4...) occurs as a result of the beginning and middle of the plot. Still, as we remember to work on rising action leading to a turning point, climax, and falling action (what happens BECAUSE of the climax), our middle should lead to a resolution of some sort in the end of our story. Mind you, this does not mean the resolution solves everyone's problems! So, how do we work through a middle? Here is some advice: 1. Play both ends against the middle. In other words try to get opposing people or groups to fight or disagree in the middle of your play so that you will get a dramatic advantage from the situation. 2. Plot is developed by having something else happen BECAUSE a decision or action complicates the situation characters find themselves in. Consider what result an action or decision has upon the middle. 3. Push through. As frustrating as it might be, the most important tip is to keep going. If you can, LISTEN to your characters...they will guide you with their dialogue if you're "in the zone" and really listening to what they want (their objectives) and what they're willing to do to win their objective. 4. Skip to the end. Yep. You do NOT have to write a story or play in order. If you know how you want your play to end, go there and write that. If you have your beginning, consider how a beginning will connect to the ending you have in mind. Also remember tip #3...let your character's motivations guide you. Listen to them. They know what they want, you need to let them express that on stage. 5. Relax. It's only a play. Remember that plays are meant to be FUN. Yep. FUN. Get into the minds and shoes of your characters and again, follow tip #3. Your characters should talk about stuff that is interesting to THEM. If your characters are willing to talk, let them. Write down what they say. Above all else, remember that you're not done until your characters get what they want (or don't). Play scripts are not done until they've been workshopped by actors and directed by directors. What you're working on is a pretty-involved and cool blueprint. No sweat. If your blueprint has some holes, we'll fill them later--that includes the murky or mushy middle. Extra advice: use the terms This happens...therefore....or This happens...but... [See Matt Stone & Trey Parker's advice about plotting...] See the resources below for more help...
Class comments

More Playwriting Advice

Continue to write your play drafts. Here's some advice. Remember: if you get stuck, check out the previous resource pages with lots of tips and motivational videos.

People tell stories all the time. Look for them and you'll soon start spotting them everywhere, from newspapers to snatches of overheard conversation. Remember: you want to try to tell an interesting story with interesting characters talking about or dealing with interesting situations and subject matter. • Ask yourself what your story is (what is the premise and major dramatic question?) You could try summarising it in a sentence or two and sticking it by your desk, so you can keep it in mind. • Get into the habit of writing. If you're short on time, try writing little but often. A beat is the perfect size to keep moving your scenes forward! • Overwrite, then cut. Try to avoid cutting during the writing of your 1st draft. • Some writers tend to write subconsciously, some tend to plan more. Do whatever works for you. • Give your main character obstacles to overcome. Your characters should have objectives. He/she should have changed by the end of the play (dynamic characters!); review the roles we discussed. If you have a minor character identify the kind of role they fulfill in your story: messenger/herald, confidante/ally, foil, antagonist, allegorical, etc. • What are your characters' goals and objectives? These might change from beat to beat, scene to scene, or act to act. • Make your characters extraordinary or larger than life in some way. Remember: characters REPRESENT reality, they are NOT real. Have them take risks! • Think about the subtext of your dialogue and remember that people often don't say what they want to say - or they often say the opposite of what they think. Don't forget what we discussed as theatrical conventions!
Class comments

Scene & Emotional Storyboards

 Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, they say. When writing a play (or story) you might find it useful to see what the action of your scene might look like. For those of you who need a more visual representation of the action, plot, setting, character arc, or character emotional journey in a scene or act of your play, try storyboarding.

Storyboards are used primarily in film to help designers "picture" what a shot or scene might look like. But we can also use them to see the status quo, the inciting incident, the rising action, the turning point, the dark moment, the enlightenment, the climax, the falling action, and resolution of our story. We can also use them to show the change in emotion for a character in a scene to help us create dynamic characters. These can be done with words as much as pictures, if you'd like (or are afraid of drawing stick figures). Emotional storyboards can be used to track the emotional journey of a character or characters in a scene. They can also be used to show the physical action of the characters or actors on stage for directors or writers. See the attachments below to help you set up your own storyboards if that will help you unstick and progress in your writing process.

What's the Problem? (Motivating Yourself; Using Aristotle's 6 Parts to Focus Our Writing)

Work on writing your play draft, using your story outline as a guide. [If you don't have an outline yet, please catch up with us or you will be in danger of not completing or having the time to complete your play draft project. Get going with that creative process, please!]

No matter where you are with your process, you're going to get stuck. When that happens, think about what problem you're having moving forward. The answer or solution to your problem might be described below. Drama = conflict. Put simply, anything that makes a character's objective difficult to achieve, an obstacle, that gets in the way of a character's needs, wants, or expectations. Obstacles, of course, can be person v. person, (an argument or clashing objectives); person v. self (a flaw, a bad decision or action with unseen consequences, a contradictory belief or action); person v. society (a conflicting belief or philosophy, a problem, a lack of resources); or person v. nature (setting, environment, fear or neglect of natural forces); or person v. fate/god (a spiritual or ethical failing, ignoring human nature or the natural order of physical or metaphysical laws). When building your scenes, you want to remember that each scene (long or short) should include a problem (big or small) for the protagonist(s) to confront. It is likely as we begin writing the play, we will run into certain problems (conflicts) of our own as writers. Take a look at what problem(s) you might be having and use the prompts for each section to help you move forward with your scene, act, or play. Plot/Conflict: --Your first scene should present a problem for one or more of your characters. Don't avoid introducing your conflict. Get it going, get it described almost immediately. When you find yourself in a dry patch (unsure where to take the scene next), consider how your characters are reacting and trying to solve a problem. If needed, start a new problem (possibly connected to your initial problem that starts the play or scene...!) --It's okay to build more slowly (particularly in a longer play), but remember that your inciting incident should begin your rising action. From your rising action, your characters should reach a turning point (dark moment, enlightenment) before rising to your climax. After your climax, you need falling action and a resolution. Exposition and backstory (or subplots) can release the build of tension in a scene, act, or play. If you find you have nowhere to go, allow a release of tension before building again. [Notice how Albee does this masterfully in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf!] --Give your character(s) a strategy to try (and fail at!) before they succeed. Usually, good conflict is not easily solved. The first couple times we try to solve a problem, we may not be successful. Consider how an action or approach to solve a problem can "go wrong"--and then let it. --For each scene or act, divide it into 3 parts (beginning, middle, end). In a single sentence for each part of your scene, define what happens or what the "main event" of this part of the scene or act will be...[First, this will happen...; then second this will happen; then, finally, this will happen as a result...] Character Development: --Answer: What's at stake for your characters? What does your character want in this scene? It's okay if they talk about it! What do they want? What do they fear will happen if they don't get what they want? Have characters talk about their strategies to get what they want (or their fears about not getting it!) --Describe each of your characters in one word. Then try again in one sentence. Finally, describe your character as a metphor or simile. --Give your character a secret. What "secret" does the character keep? What will happen to the character if this "secret" is revealed? [Note that at some point, the audience MUST learn this secret and so should the other characters...!] --Give your character a prop (an item or costume piece they use to help define who or what they are or want). Give each of your characters a different prop. Setting/Stage, Music & Spectacle: --Draw a sketch or picture of your set. You can also make a character rendering (an artist's sketch of a character's costume). See attachments as an example. --Give each character a musical theme to help define them. Everytime they show up on stage, what song might play? How does this contrast with the style of song or music already playing for the other character's on stage? --Turn off the lights (figuratively--or literally). If we could only HEAR the scene or act, what sounds would help "tell the story"? --What theatrical conventions might you want to try in your scene or act? (Asides, masks, stage combat, cross-dressing, farce, multiple roles for actors, choreography, musical numbers, choruses, lighting effects, etc.) Dialogue & Language: --Give each character a different or unique manner of speaking. (Maybe your character speaks using a lot of proverbs or cliched sayings; maybe your character stutters or pauses a lot; maybe your character never speaks directly, but blathers on and on, maybe your character says very little or doesn't respond to other characters easily unless forced to. Etc.) --Subtext is the meaning and intention under every word or line spoken by a character. Actors study a character's subtext, so give your actor something to work with by providing subtext for your characters when speaking their lines. --Dialogue and beats in a scene should sound natural, yes, but our dialogue in a play is often heightened other words, it should sound good and provide a mental picture for the audience. Use imagery! Describe abstract ideas through concrete comparisons (metaphor, similes, personification; for sound imagery use alliteration, assonance, consonance, euphony, onomatopoeia, rhyme, meter, kenning, or other musical sound techniques). --Characters can lie. Have them lie about what they want, then, eventually, reveal the lie. This can work with a character's actions as well. A character may go to great risk and length to do some action that shows others that what they really want is contrary to the action performed. Theme: --What's the big idea in your play? How do the actions, plot or conflict, props, set pieces, or characters help indicate the message you want to leave your audience? --One of the biggest problems writers have is that they expect a theme to just show up without introducing it (or don't know why they're writing a play in the first place). Have your characters talk about the theme or main idea you want to communicate or talk about in your scene or act. --Include a debate involving an issue and its other side(s) between your characters. --State your theme for the scene or act in one sentence. If this were a chapter title, what would it be? --Create a title that connects to your theme. [You can even temporarily name your characters as allegorical ideas that support your theme...Mr. Lecherous might date Miss Innocent, or Angry Guy might argue with Sad Guy.] These are just some exercises and bits of advice to try when you get stuck. Come back to this as needed while you write your play draft. Also, take a look at the attachments here for more help. Most of these ideas also work for short story writing, poems, film scripts, and essays.

The Murky Middle (Even More Advice)

Aristotle wrote that stories should have a beginning, middle, and end. Middles can be difficult. You might have a smashing opening to a stor...