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How I write a Play
by Kevin M Reese

First:  A little exposition

When I sit down to write a play, I am merely performing an improvisational exercise.  In my acting training, I used a lot of Improv.  When I was teaching Acting at a Children's Theatre, my favorite tool was improvisation.  Thinking:  "What would I do if...."  That is how I write plays.

First I have to do all the homework.  Decide the major plot elements, the major characters, how the play will begin and end, etc.  Since I usually adapt well-known Fairy Tales, a lot of the hard work is already done.  Then using those as guidelines, I take myself on a ride through my own imagination.  Oftentimes, that ride persuades me to change the plot, add new characters-- but the guidelines give me something to start from.

I usually plot out the chain of events on a page, leaving a few spaces in-between each one.  Just basic stuff:  Intro of Hero...  Intro of Bad Guy... Confrontation.... Audience decides who wins... Etc.  Then I just look them over and pick one to work on. Usually one pops out at me-- and I start writing.  Using that list, I have a veritable smorgasbord of interesting things to write about.  I just choose what piques my interest at that moment.  I usually have a Brain Storming session with myself.  I set up a sort of Stream of Consciousness-type atmosphere where I just write what comes into my head.  I have a pretty good imagination, so I just see where I go.  I'm really good at justification, so if something pops into my head-- no matter how wild or uncommon-- I can usually get it to work somehow.

I often wake up in the middle of the night and go to my computer and write.  Something in a dream will trigger my imagination to start working on something on the list.  Or it can be something I read, something I see on TV or a movie, something I hear during a conversation with my wife or kids... the things that influence me are practically endless and always unpredictable.

I require about a year to write a show.  I mark off six months on the calendar for my preparation phase where I do all the homework:  research the original story if it's an adaptation, let it stew in my head so I can figure out plot elements, develop my unique "hook" (or the reason I'm writing yet another version of the story), etc.  

Then I mark off another three months to prepare my workspace:  make sure my computer and necessary software are up to the task and fully upgraded, start thinking about musical styles, get a head start on chord progressions, find out about physical limitations of the theatre/performance space of the premiere.  

My office/studio is usually a mess.  I'm not a tidy person.  Neatness has never been important to me unless I start tripping over stuff.  I guess my office is a reflection of my mind.  My wife has given up on trying to get me to be neat-- she just tells me to keep the door closed.  Ha.  Part of my workspace prep is to shovel out my office so I have a "clean slate" for the project.  A new beginning so to speak.

Then I have three months to write.  It's not uncommon for me to only take a weekend of "pen to paper" to get a script out in a form that's ready for a cast.  That tells you how important my homework phase is to me.  Usually, though, it takes a couple weeks of writing.  I don't have many large blocks of time for writing due to my being a stay-at-home Dad.  That may also explain why I get up in the middle of the night to write-- it's about the only time I have without interruptions.

This drawn-out schedule is required for my improvisational style of writing.  During all phases of the process, my mind is open for ideas, storing possible scenarios, bits, phrases, etc.  A lot of "brick walls" are avoided by this much preparation.  Of course, there have been a couple shows where I STILL had problems-- but that's another story for another time....

Writing in an episodic fashion like this, I often have to have someone, usually my wife, look over the final draft to help me look for incongruities or problems with logic.  She's really good at finding holes or dangling plot elements.  After a while of staring at it by myself, I often get tunnel-vision and need assistance, a fresh eye.

This may not be at all unlike the process used by other writers.  I have never done much research on the writing process.  This is just how I do it.


I set my alarm for 6 am to get my kids to school, but I usually wake up sometime between 4 - 6 am, raring to go.  I let our dog out, put on my special brew of coffee (in a nutshell, a blend of 3 varieties, enough grounds for 10 cups, enough water for 2-- a huge cup of espresso!  BOING!), put an english muffin in the toaster.  After putting Hazelnut Coffeemate in the brew, butter and Black Raspberry jam on my muffin, and letting our dog back in the house, I head downstairs to my studio.  I have now done everything I can to prepare my way into my physical writing atmosphere. 

What comes next is up to my imagination.  Very rarely do I come up "dry."  After preparing for the show for almost a year, by the time I get to this point, I am chomping at the bit to get it onto paper.  I wake up from sleep with solutions to my script problems, I hear things in my kids' conversations that I can use, I'm even more patient about our kids domineering the TV because I get hints and bits from the shows they watch.

You see, the first thing I do when I'm ready to start writing is get an outline down on paper.  I know how many pages I need for a show, so I number each page and put that page's planned outline title.  I know where the story is going-- it's just HOW it gets there I have yet to discover.  So, in a real way, I am playing the story out in my imagination and transcribing.  That's why I get so excited about writing, because every day is an adventure.

I look at one of the blank pages and may start there-- or I may add to a page that I've already worked on.  Or I may completely change something I already wrote to accommodate a new idea.  Either way, it's all good.  I've done this enough to know when a scene is done, when the show is done.


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