Writing an Ensemble Piece

I find it to be a valuable exercise in determination and frustration to try and write a limited length ensemble piece. I do drama writing so that’s where my piece fits in. And yes, it’s causing me fits.

Here’s the situation: I’m writing a less than 15 minute piece that has 12 characters. Talk about not having much time for character development! It’s a challenge.

But it’s a great exercise for writing because it really forces you to get down to the nitty-gritty. There’s no way you can develop 12 characters in 15 minutes. So if you can’t do that, what can you do?

The first time I did a large ensemble piece was last year. It was called “The Will.” It had 11 characters and it clocked in at 15 minutes. It luckily worked really well. The main reason for its success (I am now just figuring it out) is that there was a very well defined plot, and each character had a specific role (very specific) that they needed to accomplish.

As I look at the piece I’m writing this year, I’m on draft four and it’s too long with too few developed characters. There a couple characters which I could completely take out of the plot and not change the story or meaning. That’s not good. How can I make all of them essential or at least beneficial to the storyline?

This shows me the benefit of ensemble writing. It makes me struggle. Honestly, not much of my writing makes me struggle. It usually comes easy and flows right off the keyboard.

But it’s good to be stretched. It’s good to be frustrated. It’s good to write draft after draft. It’s good to have the feeling of just wanting to deep-six the whole thing and start over. (Which I still might do!) It’s good to wrestle and struggle with your writing. What is actually important? Why is that character there? How can I make that character’s presence more meaningful? How can I shorten and tighten everything? How can I make all of the actors happy with their roles?

All of these questions need to be answered. And that’s a good thing for my writing.

UPDATE: This ensemble piece is still killing me!

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