But, having just got through a shaky first draft (literally, I stopped typing an hour ago), it’s got me thinking about some of the things I’ve learned about writing drama that they never taught me on any playwriting courses.
They’re my own rules, and you may despise all of them. But, in case one or two might be useful to someone else, here’s a list.
- People never say what they mean in drama. If a character says: “I’m annoyed with you because you don’t pull your weight around the house” and that’s really all that’s going on – that isn’t drama. That’s just your parents arguing.
- Use some specialist script-writing software. You can usually try them out for free. It saves loads of formatting time, and it makes you feel like a real professional in a way that selecting a ‘typewriter’ font in a Word document just doesn’t.
- If you haven’t heard your script out loud, it isn’t ready.
- ‘Write what you know’ is boring advice. So is the favourite slogan of theatre literary departments: ‘Tell us something about the world we live in now.’ Write what interests you instead. Look things up if you need to. The only commandment is ‘Thou shalt not bore’.
- Constantly ask: ‘Do I need to write that?’ It goes for everything you put on the page: dialogue, stage directions, the dreaded ‘notes on performance’. You are not Tennessee Williams. Leave space for the other creatives who will hopefully bring your work to life.
- Always submit a script as an uneditable PDF. Seriously. If an actor or director has to make handwritten changes, they’ll think about them first.
- Be kind to your characters. Be kind to your story. Be kind to your audience. Be fucking brutal with yourself. (Cut that speech.)
- Give people names. Be specific in everything you do. If anything is purely symbolic, you haven’t done your job yet.
- Don’t let anybody in your script actually say the point you’re making. Lie, conceal and cheat. Then we might believe you.
If you thought this post was a bit self-righteous, you might prefer this list of all the bad things I’ve ever written
Should you wish, you can read some of my stories for free online here
As it happens, I’m currently putting a playlist together of songs that the characters in my play (a group of feminists living together in 1978) might have listened to. I’d love to hear suggestions for anything I’ve missed – let me know in the comments below?
I’m funnier on Twitter: @AbiFaro
Happy New Year, everybody!