I was giving some advice to a writer I’m mentoring on some essential elements to consider when revising a scene or planning to write – and thought it might be useful to share a few in a post. Further notes will follow:
IT HAPPENS IN THE PRESENT TENSE. Theatre is alive and happening before us in the moment. Even when recounting past events, the experiences are alive and impacting on the character NOW. Passivity in character, lack of dynamic and drive and exposition arises when events are being reported, or presented as mere information. Your characters should be engaged and active – but remember, even a thought can be action.
WHAT’S AT STAKE? The old chestnut… What can each character lose or gain from the events and actions of the piece? In a character-driven script, there should be something important at risk, to make the events of the piece matter. If the stakes aren’t high enough, you’re not creating enough dramatic tension and an audience may think ‘so what?’
WHAT DO YOUR CHARACTERS WANT? Each character should be driven, the protagonist of their own lives (even if not the protagonist of the actual play). They should have very specific objectives, so ask what each wants. The answers should not be vague or abstract – ‘he wants love’, ‘she wants fulfilment’ – it should be precise and specific: ‘She wants to get her Mother’s letters back.’ These specific objectives in the moment will KEEP YOUR CHARACTER ACTIVE and the plot and action beating on. The charcater may also have a larger want, a super-objective, but be aware of what they want in each scene and moment – even if it is ‘to shut that bloody awful man up!’
This then impacts on TACTICS: WHAT DO YOUR CHARACTERS DO TO GET WHAT THEY WANT? If your character wants that bloody awful man to shut up, does she attack him, surprise him into silence with unexpected behaviour (a slap or a kiss?), drive him away with her own boredom, does she lie, charm, run away – what? Character is revealed through action and we can learn alot about the character through their interactions and the tactics they use to obtain what they want. This is also how a character grows and learns new skills. They try different approaches to obtain what they want, engaging the audience and also, depending on the challenge of the obstacles they have to overcome to get what they want, prove themselves as worthy protagonists/antagonists.
Through new behaviour and tactics, the character also CHANGES and change is essential in every moment of a script. Whether in dynamics, storyline, relationships, or characterisation, something must have CHANGED, so the end of each scene is different from how it began and we are aware of the MOVEMENT in the scene.
More notes on essential elements of scenes will follow…