Richard Pinner led a fascinating workshop recently aboout working with the seed of an idea. The workshop started with participants (writers?) answering questions about who they were, which, as a question repeated, can glean some very revealing statements. We examined a few of the ways that successful playwrights generate ideas, particularly focusing on images. You can try picturing a photographic snapshot that describes a notion, like childhood reassuring, family absurdity, or pain, and then develop the story, or write a scene using the image.
Richard suggested that writing a play is an active process, in which it can often be helpful to walk out a scene, or speak dialogue aloud. In our last exercise, we were asked to imagine a bare stage and then occupy it, successively, with: four items; a sound; the entrance of a character; the entrance of another character; and the first words. So began my first ever play – picture it for yourself…
The stage is bare. Now there are three long windows at the back of the stage that are unlit, with a few piles of books under the window frame. There’s a battered old chair, and a goldfish bowl, replete with water and tiny goldfish, atop one of the piles of books. Offstage you can hear the sound of running water. Lights now stream through the windows, and the running water stops. A youthful woman enters in a bathrobe, towelling her wet hair. She stands in the warm light and breathes a contented sigh before saying gold morning and smiling at the goldfish. She stirs the goldfish’s water with a finger. We hear a lock turn, and our protagonist turns to the door, still towelling her hair. In walks another young woman in a light jacket, carrying a paperbag full of freshly baked croissants. She beams at the first woman and says lightly ‘I see you got the shower working’.
For an immediate response to some unexpected questions, I’m thrilled that my brain has offered such a delightful scene to explore. You can bet on it that I’ll remove my chair and walk through the scene myself to find out (or write!) what happens next!