An Approach to Drama Writing Part II: It all starts in your mind.

Part II on my short workshop on writing drama (applicable to other genres as well. Part I was on Being Fearless. You can read it HERE!

Writing is accomplished in your mind. It’s edited on paper. (or electronic paper)

One of the great myths of writing is that it is accomplished when you actually start putting ink to paper. I have found that to be grossly untrue. Writing is a mind game, an exercise in thinking, an exercise in idea creation, an exercise in fleshing out ideas and thinking about characters and scenes long before you ever put anything down on paper.

Start  with a word or phrase

The most important part of writing is generating thoughts which connect and help expand an idea. One of the most effective ways I have found to generate ideas is by starting with a word or phrase. Here are some phrases that I came across that I liked which eventually turned into short dramatic pieces:

  • If Love is a Crime
  • More Heart, Less Attack (stolen from a song title)
  • Captured in Time and Space (stolen from an album title)
  • There is no leaving

These are phrases, some random some sourced from other places, which stuck with me for one reason or another and I started ruminating on them. I started asking myself in what type of situation might showing love be a crime. In my history class at the time, we were talking about slavery and that quickly gave me my answer: giving aid to a runaway slave. So I took that phrase and developed it into a short play and then eventually a short story.

I basically did the same thing with the other phrases above as well. I thought and thought until I fit the phrase into an appropriate situation. Each one turned out to be a good piece of drama.

Start with an image or scene in your mind.

Another great place to start your drama writing is just taking a simple image in your mind and starting to think through what type of situation could it create. When I was growing up, there was a lonely tree on top of a high hill which always visually stuck with me for some reason. As I was writing my second novel a couple years ago, I encouraged myself to take that image and try to use it. Who would climb a hill and sit under a lonely crab apple tree? Could they be trying to escape something? Could they be climbing the hill in order to look out over the valley trying to see something? I let my imagination take me away and eventually used it as an integral part of my novel. All it took was thinking time.

I also had an image of a man standing in a square with an umbrella in front of the gate of the presidential palace of some country. I kept asking myself why a man would do this? What might be the situation? A protest? Waiting for someone? I used this image to create a short play about a man waiting for a revolution. More recently I took that short play and wrote it into a novel – my fourth coming up later this summer.

What’s the point?

What I’m trying to get across when writing drama (or anything for that matter), is that your initial idea does not have to be elaborate. It might not even be an idea a first, just a phrase or an image rattling away in your mind. All you need to do is let that phrase ruminate and give your mind time to generate some possible ideas which you can explore on paper. Keep it simple. Think who might be in that setting and why? What might this word or phrase mean? Is there a particular place associated with it?

Now just keep it going. You’ll be surprised at how your ideas will blossom.

Next up in part three of writing drama: Take that scene and create your characters (or vice versa)

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