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@The Arts Unit Art Bites – An approach to scriptwriting
ANGELA MOROSIN: Hi, I'm Angela, and today I'm going to take you through some of the considerations and approaches to script writing. And, I'll provide some really simple activities to help generate and refine your ideas.
So, what makes a good script? The best scripts present a clear and specific world inhabited by well-defined characters, who have clear relationships, and engage in purposeful action, which takes the audience on a theatrical journey. Further, the most engaging scripts also make meaningful use of a specific form and style. Here are some of the initial things you need to consider before you start.
Firstly, your concept. Is your concept original and engaging? Originality doesn't mean 'never been done before', but an original perspective, or a fresh take. Remember that you're not trying to rewrite something which has already been done, but to use what you know, to tell the story which interests you. The play must have a sustained theatrical vision and a really clear purpose. All aspects of the script must work together to create a coherently-structured journey within a specific world.
Dramatic action. Here you need to consider how the dramatic action is manipulated purposefully, and clearly, to engage the audience. Alongside the action, you're also marked on your choice and shaping of the dramatic and theatrical elements to support the action.
Dramatic language. Think about how you use language to create clearly defined and thoroughly convincing characters. Additionally, the way you utilise language to craft subtextual, symbolic, and/or thematic meaning, and to describe the visual and aural imagery and effects appropriate to the stylistic demands of the play you are writing.
So, in summary, your script needs to have a clear concept and idea, which is realised through purposeful dramatic action, supported by well chosen dramatic elements. The language needs to contribute to convincing characters and relationships, whilst also creating dramatic meaning through subtext and symbolism.
Now, here's an activity to help you shape your idea. It can be a good starting point to begin with ideas, stories, and characters which are meaningful to you. Think about what message or idea you want to convey through your script.
You don't necessarily need to have first-hand knowledge of the events or characters. But, understanding who they are, where they are, and why they are behaving the way they are, is essential to creating a play which an audience will care about. To this end, it's good to do some research into the things which interest you.
Do you want to explore a specific style or form of theatre? Is there a character from a period of history that you're really interested in? Have you always wanted to explore a new perspective on a well-known event? Well, research here is essential, and can give you authentic dialogue, spark ideas for settings, and provide ideas for situations or characters which you may not have considered.
It's also worth remembering, at this point, that you only have about 25 pages, or 15 minutes, to bring your ideas to life on stage. So, the concept, characters, and action need to be clear and achievable. Therefore, it's a good idea to limit the number of locations and characters within your script. So, here's a little checklist.
Firstly, your ideas. What am I saying through my script? Why is it important to me, and to an audience? What specific things am I exploring in my script? Am I looking at relationships, society, politics, power, all of the above? How can I make my play layered and interesting through the manipulation of language, action, character, tension, contrast, and style?
What type of performance space will the script be performed in? And then, how does this affect the action and the technical requirements of the play? Where can I research further information about my ideas, characters, form or style, et cetera?
So, here's a quick brainstorm activity. Remember, you can pause at any time, come back to any part of this, and rework any part of this activity that you like, and throughout the video. So, think firstly in your brainstorm 'What do I care about? What statement do I want to make to the world?'
Think about this as the spine of your script. It will be the thing on which everything else hinges. You can write this in a simple sentence which begins, 'I want the audience to feel or think or know or understand, or I want to say this, but I also want to say this.'
Form and style. As a playwright, you have the freedom of choice when it comes to the form and style of your play. However, remember that your choice needs to serve the action. And, here's a checklist to make sure that you're doing that. What is the best way to tell the story and present the ideas? What form or style will my play be performed in? For example, will it be realistic or melodramatic? Or, will it be realistic with influences from other forms?
Do your research to ensure that you know the conventions and techniques of your chosen style, and how to manipulate these to achieve your intended effect. What impact will the choice of form and style have on the actor-audience relationships? Is there potential for subplot without sacrificing clarity, within the limitations of the project?
Dramatic action. Where is your play going? You need to know what the beginning, middle, and end of the action is, even if you're not creating a linear narrative. What are the relationships between characters? What is at stake for each of them? How can you show this through subtext and dialogue, as well as through the action?
How does each character's separate objective create tension and/or contrast? How will you establish and build the tension within the script? What is the climactic moment of the piece? Will there be one or more climactic moments? When will they occur? Is the action able to be staged effectively?
Dramatic structures. So, there's a few different types of dramatic structure that you can use. Firstly, the linear narrative. A linear narrative follows a straight line. It starts at the beginning, establishing who, what, where, and when.
The story then increases in tension and moves towards a climax as the characters deal with obstacles and complications. The action will then move towards an ending where the action is resolved. Linear narratives mostly follow a natural chronological time progression, and they're the most common form of narrative.
Then you have the episodic structure. The episodic structure can work well for creating a larger story through a series of smaller interrelated vignettes, or individual stories. 'Stolen' by Jane Harrison is an excellent example of the episodic play structure.
In an episodic play, there should be an overarching storyline which links the individual stories or vignettes. Each vignette will be self-contained. Now, this means that each episode should have well-defined characters, situations, and some element of tension.
Each episode will combine to create a broader structural tension which engages the audience. Episodic plays may move through time in a non-linear way - flashbacks to childhood, for example. And, as a writer, you need to include character and situational clues to help position the audience to know the who, what, when, where, and why, at any given moment.
Then we have the cyclical structure. In a circular narrative, the action begins and ends at the same point that it began. However, a lot happens in the intervening period. The characters often transform, or learn something about themselves, and/or the world, in that cycle.
Here are some practical exercises. So, the first one is an exercise on building a character through action and dialogue. And, remember that you can pause this at any time and go through these activities. I'd love for you to stop, do the work, and then come back and move on.
So, with action and dialogue, how a character speaks and reacts can reveal a lot about who they are, their underlying objectives, and their goals. Character action is not only what a character thinks, or says, which tells us something about them. Actions, small gestures, specific body language all help to convey a character's personality, and reveal their objectives.
So, here's an exercise focusing on how does what your character does reveal their objectives. I want you to rewrite the following neutral script, which should appear on your screen, twice through - first with a focus on dialogue, and then with the second focus. Remember to consider how an objective can be met through the subtext.
Secondly, you'll focus on action. Remember, that an objective can be met through movement, gestures, and external actions driven by the internal needs, wants, and desires of the character.
Find a friend in an audience, and perform the neutral scene that appeared on your screen above, as it appears. Once you've completed your rewrites, focusing on action and dialogue, perform the scene for an audience again. Now, think about how the character dialogue and the actions revealed the personality and objectives. Discuss this with your audience, and your performing partner, after you've presented it.
Then we've got to look at situation. At the heart of every good play is a story. Even if you're writing in a non-linear, non-realistic form, in every play, there also needs to be something at stake, something which keeps us interested in the action and the characters. The audience will always ask, 'Why should I care?' You might achieve this through creating conflict between characters of different status or, as we talked about already, through characters with different objectives.
You also need situations in which the characters negotiate. And, these situations need to blend together into a cohesive play. This doesn't mean you have to write a linear, realist play. It simply means that you need to consider the dramatic arc, the where, the when, and how the story unfolds, and plot useful action in situations which build the audience interest and engagement.
I want you to brainstorm some ideas for everyday situations, which might be flipped, to give the audience a different perspective. Listen to the stories that people tell you about the things which have happened to them. Could you adapt or repurpose the situation? Could you readapt the story arc or the characters? How might you heighten the dramatic action so that it could sustain audience interest throughout a 15-minute performance?
So, in conclusion, your script needs a strong, sustained concept, a good story and effective plot which engages the audience, a specific form of style, effective and appropriate usage of the techniques and conventions associated with that chosen style, defined characters with clear relationships, status, and purpose, effective and engaging dialogue, and dramatic action.
If you can put all of this together, and make sure you show your work to other people and get them to read it, then you're well on your way to creating a great script. Good luck.
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