In dramatic writing, you want to establish the basic need or object of desire in your main character and then set up obstacles for achieving it – the more obstacles the better! The formula they teach you in film school is the same: boy meets girl, boy gets girl (Act One), boy loses girl (Act Two), boy gets girl back (Act Three). The key is to make things worse as the story progresses – not out of mean spiritedness but because how your character deals with problems reveals her character.
You know. When a person’s back is up against the wall that's when you find out who they really are.
What’s the worst that could happen? That’s the crisis in your play. The forces of opposition can no longer avoid collision and the worst thing your main character could have imagined comes true – so what does she do? That’s the rest of your play!
My playwriting teacher said it was Oedipus’ character that made him gouge out his eyes when he realized that he had murdered his father and slept with his mother. Other characters might have just skipped town.
I was thinking about this when I found myself in my own crisis. I’d been working full guns for six months on the book, writing before work and for several hours each day on the weekends and trying to paint at nights, when it got busy again at work and I started to become exhausted and depressed. The company was moving offices too, so I had to give up taking the bus, which is when I do all my reading, and swimming on my lunchbreaks, which is the thing I do to keep my energy and spirits up.
I was getting pressed on all sides, and started to feel my dream slipping away...
At first, I felt shame for all my failures. Then panic as I went round and around my schedule and found no breaks. Then I got sick. Then, I blamed Jack for not rescuing me. Then I remembered a strategy that our teacher had taught us in playwriting class.
You set a timer and for 5 minutes you write what happens from the crisis point to the end of your play. Write whatever comes to mind in as much detail as you can. Then you go back to the crisis point and somebody (say your main character) makes a different choice. For 5 minutes write what happens from that choice to the end of your play. Do that 5 times, so you have 5 different endings. Then choose one – and that’s how your play ends!
Do that for your life and then, given all the different scenarios, ask yourself what is the choice you will make?
p.s. I chose 6:00am M-F at the Culver Plunge!