Staying on track with a story is difficult. You excite yourself for a narrative you think could work really well. One you think can be really quick on its feet and punchy… then ten pages in you’re already sick of the tale you’re telling. It can be long-winded, to say the least. The best way to look at writing your play is to see it is a marathon, not a sprint. Other than that, there’s a number of ways to keep your story flowing.
Make the first pages count
You’ve probably been told it before. ‘A producer will read the first five pages of a script and then decide whether to carry on or not’. Never have words been truer. Sometimes it’s less. You always need to prepare for whoever is reading to lose interest instantly. How do you keep them glued to your pages? Make the beginning snappy.
Plato said “the beginning is the most important part of the work”. Dive right into the story and spare no words for anything that is meaningless. They say that the first 10% of your script should be the beginning through to the inciting incident; the event that kicks off the storyline. The more you pack into the beginning and the more you intrigue, the more someone will want to carry on reading. I can guarantee it.
Keep to a structure
“Prose is architecture. It’s not interior design”. Words from the great Ernest Hemingway there. Of course, he is talking about storytelling being a structure, not necessarily visualisation. That is the job of the various creative departments of the theatre where you want to put your play on. Every story has a structure. These people who say ‘I’m just going to write and just see where it takes me’ are more than likely just experimenting with the narrative. If you want to KNOW you are giving your story a structure that will be acceptable, keep your peepers peeled.
Make sure you have your plot, and throw in a subplot to keep the story more intriguing, for example, how will they end up connecting if they do? Your inciting incident needs to be hot off the intro and then full steam ahead into the main chunk of the story.
Most importantly, and this is one that trips people up, make sure your big reveal is placed just before the third act. This gives you chance to tie up the third act and the resolution of the story with plenty of time. The third act is very much like the beginning of a story in that it shouldn’t be long-winded and it should be snappy to build up the tension and the excitement.
Don’t go off topic
The main body of the story usually gives you lots of space to tell your play, screenplay or prose. Even still, it is easy to steer off into a different direction. With a play, every word needs to be important to the story. If you have a quirky character, don’t just make him quirky for quirkiness sake, make him quirky in a way that adds to an element of the plot, for example, maybe you want him to rub the main hero up the wrong way and a few certain quirky acts could do just that.
Henry Green said, “the more you leave out, the more you highlight what you leave in.” If you want to drip feed pieces of information about characters then use that massive (metaphorical) landscape you have to fill. But fill it with meaning dialogue, stage directions and occurrences. Otherwise, the person who is in control of your play being put on stage or not is going to think ‘this person has so many tangents I feel like I’m looking at a map of Manhattan’.
Conflict between characters is always a great move to keep your story flowing. If you have a character do something that you know another character will disagree with, you know that you can say ‘right, in ten pages I can resolve that’, that is unless it’s adding to the overall third act reveal of the story. But yes, it gives you an aim of where to resolve it in the future, in the meantime, you are filling in other gaps of the story and propelling it further in other new ways.
The only pitfall to be careful of when having characters in conflict is to not make it boring. This may sound like a given, but a lot of aspiring stories can having characters arguing like ‘well you did it!’ ‘no I didn’t!’ ‘but you did!’ ‘prove it!’ ‘I won’t!’. In comedy terms, that can work, in a dramatic period piece, that formula doesn’t fit. If I wanted to see this I’d go to my little cousin’s playground at lunchtime or I’d get myself a ticket for a pantomime. In retrospect, if you are a writer wanting to write a panto, hats off to you, take no notice of me.
Storytelling is something that needs to be laid out, looked at, and moved around. There’s a reason a lot of professional writers own whiteboards, people! A great misconception is that writing a story is easy. For the great stories of our time, writers have taken months, sometimes YEARS to get them right. Respect what you are typing. Give it time, give it thought, give it direction, and the story will unfold really well.
There are plenty more articles about How To Write on our site – check them out for yourself here!
Since graduating from university with a degree in Drama and Creative Writing, Chris has fully invested in writing; actively producing articles, reviews, stories and scripts. He loves movies, television, discussions, informing, theorising, art, and most of all: writing.