Each week I will be posting an exercise to get everyone writing.

So the first exercise for January is Pitching.

Pitching is a term used in TV and film though increasingly it is referred to in radio and theatre in fact any medium. In the real world  it is a highly pressurised few minutes when a writer is given the opportunity to “sell” a project. As a writer you need to be able to sell your ideas to get commissions or get people involved in your project but also you need to be able to sell your idea to yourself too.

Putting yourself in the position of pitching your idea is a useful exercise to put yourself through. Telling people about your ideas or practising telling people about your ideas forces a half-built idea, shadowy characters, loose images to form into something more concrete. As you talk through the idea you will find the flaws, you will sense when you lose a persons interest as their eyes glaze over. Something that seemed genius swirling around in your head becomes banal, pointless, obvious when you have to explain it to someone and you realise that your idea needs more work.

Practise pitching – talk out loud about the idea as though you are talking to someone. Pitch to anyone at the slightlest opportunity – friends, colleagues. Next time someone asks you what you do – tell them you’re a writer then pitch your idea.

For this exercise I want you to imagine a theatre director or company has asked you about your latest play. How would you sell the idea to them? Explain to them why they should commission your play.  Practise your pitch verbally and then write it down.

A few things to think about when you think about your pitch are the following;

Who are the main characters?
What is the basic outline of story and plot?
What is the structure?
What are the themes of the play?
What is the style of the play?
What does your main character want?
What is stopping them getting what they want?
How will the world of the play be changed by them getting or not getting what they want?
What is the play about?
What is the central question of the play?
Why do you want to write it?
Why is it important to write this play now?
What do you want your audience to take from it?

And this exercise is as useful at the start of writing a play as it is during and at the end.


The town with too many rats

The group has now decided that though Town with No Traffic Wardens will not go on to be developed but instead the group will again look to write a project about Aberystwyth. This does not mean that the plays, sketches and scenes from TWNTW are dead. These could be developed into individual plays, characters could be resurrected, settings could be transplanted. Maybe Chardonnay has gone on to find her perfect job, maybe the traffic warden and the angry restaurant supply man have got married, maybe the OCD supermarket manager has finally succeeded in getting a supermarket in town.

Over the next few months in the background whilst we work on Playpen and the radio project we’ll continue to explore how to write a project for Aberystwyth.

We’ve discussed the potential to create a set of characters collectively alongside an overall story but then each member of the group is then asked to take responsibility for part of the story which would inevitably mean that everyone writes for characters created by another writer which could be problematic. However it could also be an interesting challenge.

We have also discussed finding an existing story such as Dylan Thomas’s Under Milkwood or the Pied Piper to create a base on which to build a story about Aberystwyth.

Over the next few months I’ll be asking each member of the group to lead the group in exercises about developing the Rats project. Basically to approach  the development process in the way you feel would be the most productive and focusing on whichever area you feel would be the most effective maybe character, structure, adaptation, research, stories. These exercises will be aimed at finding the subject matter and the approach.

In thinking about what we can use as stimuli and starting points the group were asked to make suggestions in the following categories,
Settings – favourite and least favourite places in Aberystwyth
Characters – who are the characters you see out and about in Aberystwyth
Ideas – political changes, things that could impact Aberystwyth
Phrases – sentences, a line of dialogue, an overheard sentence
Visual Images – an image that might combine a setting and a character, or a character doing something,

These are what the group came up with. Can you think of anymore?
bridge in PwllCrwn woods, bridge next to Rummers, national library, footpath next to TA, corner in the Ship and Castle, look-out at the Castle, bench on top of the Castle, bench in the train station, folk music night at Coopers, under the Pier, the road leading to Welsh Books Council,
small world, secret places, you don’t do that in Aberystwyth, who wears heels in Aberystwyth, end of the road, does nobody tell them to use soap, who does she think she is?, where the mountains meet the sea, impossible to leave whichever way you try, nutters always drift West – it’s something to do with the leylines, the last resort, how young do they look?, six degrees? You must be joking it’s not even a U-grade or a GCSE in separation, I mean the sea just goes on and on and on, backwards, it’s like living in a bubble, hard to cry out for help, where did you go to school?
end of the world, the western end of the western world, settlers, an epidemic of rats,
Campus bingo players, spew boy, talkative porters, taxi driver, Rabbi, hells angels, hairdresser, 4 wet people from Birmingham, photographer who gets everywhere, old lady in a florescent bonnet, man who spouts nothing in particular, woman in mobility scooter with sheep, fat goth/thin goth lesbian couple, someone on crutches, scrawny looking people with dogs who look like pipe cleaners, well upholstered women of a certain age, Kimberley with big thighs & big knockers, pompous students, drowned boy,
driftwood, a man in a hedge,

As an exercise select two characters, a setting then either a phrase, an image or an idea. Give yourself five minutes. Create a scene from these elements. Give yourself 30 minutes. Create the scene before and the scene after. Re-write the whole thing.

Getting Started – 4

This next exercise is about developing the idea and thinking about your characters place in the idea and story of your play. Give yourself 30 minutes but try to answer each question quickly if you are struggling with the answer then move on to the next question and come back to that question later.

  • What is at the core of the idea?
  • What are the things that drew you to the idea?
  • What are your intentions? Why do you want to write it?
  • Write as many words as you can to describe your play in one minute.
  • Add some more words to that list – think of colours, think of textures, think of sounds.
  • What is the central question that you want to explore?
  • How do you want the audience to respond to the piece?
  • Why is the story important to you?
  • Why do you want to tell this particular story?
  • What do you think you will learn by exploring this theme?
  • Who is the protagonist?
  • Who is the antagonist?
  • What does your protagonist want?
  • What is stopping them getting what they want?
  • What are the potential obstacles to them getting what they want?
  • How is the world of the play changed or not changed by them getting or not getting what they want?
  • Do you like them?
  • Do you think the audience will like them?
  • What is the character forced to react to?
  • List all the choices your characters are forced to make in your play?
  • What is the time pressure for each decision?
  • What is at stake?
  • What makes the decision difficult?
  • What is the risk they take?
  • What are the consequences?
  • What is surprising about the decision they make?

Take a look back and expand any of the answers. If you’ve answered all these questions fully then you should be ready to begin to write your play, well hopefully, at the very least you’ll be a lot closer to getting started.

Getting Started – 3

We now need to expand the story and the plot of the play.

Find a large piece of paper (A3 at the very least) and take 20 minutes to answer the do the following. Again do this quickly. Answer one then move on quickly.

Draw a time-line across the centre of the piece of paper. Answer each question then put it onto the time-line

  • What is the central event?
  • What has happened five minutes before?
  • What happens five minutes after?
  • What happens 10 minutes before?
  • What happens 10 minutes after?
  • What happens 30 minutes before?
  • What happens 30 minutes after?
  • What happens 1 hour before?
  • What happens 1 hour after?

Depending on your time scale. You can do whatever time you want to?
One day, one week, one month, one year?  Draw out the time line according to the time line of your play.

Now look at your central point on the line – think of three other things that could happen rather than the event you’ve chosen. Go through each point and do the same.

By the end of this you should have a story and a plot of your play. You may find that the start of the play is different to where you previously thought.

Getting Started – 2

Develop the characters a little more, then a little more than a little more. You’ll know when they’re ready to start the play because they’ll start to talk to you or maybe argue with you. Some writers like to simply get started with the script and find the characters voices that way. That works for some people but it doesn’t work for me. I like to find the characters first before I start writing the script.

Another exercise that helps to find characters is a more detailed life history.

Take out 10 note-cards or post-it notes or just blank pieces of paper and mark them 1-10 Think about the progress of your character from their birth to the point we meet them at the start of the play. Now give yourself 10 minutes.

Write on the top of each card a significant event in the characters life. Keep the events spread out and think about the things that might relate or link to what will happen to them in your play. Some of the events can be huge like the death of a loved one or they could be small – like watching a film but it is a memorable moment for your character.

These are a few suggestions but they can be anything; best childhood memory and worst, funniest thing that ever happened to them, most embarrassing thing that ever happened to them, the moment when they knew they were no longer a child, happiest moment in their life, saddest moment in their life, the moment they thought life was wonderful, the moment when they felt the most disappointed in someone else, the moment they felt the disappointed with themselves, the funniest thing they ever saw happen to someone else, why does your character like a particular colour.

Use whatever time you have left to add a few more details. If you need a little more time then give yourself 10 more minutes to flesh out the moment and add more details.

Getting Started – 1

With the deadline for plays for Town with No Traffic Wardens getting closer I thought it might me good to remind everyone of a few of the exercises since the group started.

These exercises have been begged, borrowed, stolen, adapted and corrupted from a variety of sources but mainly Kaite O’Reilly and Noel Greig’s Playwriting:  A Practical Guide

All the exercises work better if you give yourself a time limit initially, you can go back and expand later but for now – give yourself 3 minutes for this first one.

Let’s create or develop a character. Think of a character, either one you’re working on or have a go at plucking one from your imagination now. Start the timer – and go!

What is their gender?
What is their age?
What is their ethnicity
What is their name?
Three physical characteristics (maybe appearance, mannerism, tone of voice etc)?
What are they wearing?
Where does their money comes from (work or otherwise)?
What sort of accommodation they live in?
Where exactly on the world map is that accommodation?
is there something they lack in life?
Is there something they need right now?
Do they have a secret?
Do they have a problem?
What do they believe?
What is their wish?
Where are they right now?
What they are doing at this very moment?
What they are thinking or saying at this very moment?

List three other things you know about them ?
What else do you want to ask that character from the answers they have given above?