One of the common mistakes new playwrights make when deciding on their content is that they are too vague.
Make things specific.
The nice thing about making things specific is that it will help you write. When you have stricter boundaries in place as a writer, it takes away that feeling of being stuck, because these boundaries help you be spontaneous.
SIBUSISO: I can’t do this. It’s too much.
LARA: Come on. Don’t be like that. You’ve been doing so well.
What if we decided that Sibusiso and Lara worked together at a newspaper, and Sibusiso was an anxious person, and Lara a bit senior to him in terms of position at work? And that “It’s too much” was him referring to the amount of work needed to make a deadline?
SIBUSISO: (throwing some papers onto a desk, giving up): I can’t do this anymore. It’s too much.
LARA: (encouragingly, pouring him some tea): Come on. Don’t be like that, friend! You’ve been doing so well.
See how it feels more textured, more real? Specifics make everything pop into place and make everything more believable.
The Five W’s
To make your writing more specific, use a technique to help you called “The Five W’s” – The Who, the What, the Where, The When, and The Why.
The Who: Who is speaking?
The What: What is the situation?
The Where: Where are they?
The When: When is this event occurring?
The Why: Why are the talking?
Let’s have an example!
The Who: A receptionist, Tankiso (50). A young man of 24, Kyle. His girlfriend, Tahiera, 21.
The What: Kyle rides a motorbike and has been in an accident. Nothing serious, but his arm is bleeding.
The Where: They are in the foyer of a hospital in Cape Town, South Africa.
The When: A weekend, present day – 2022.
The Why: A taxi skipping a red robot knocked Kyle over. He doesn’t have medical insurance.
TANKISO: I’m sorry sir, but we can’t help you.
TAHIERA: Can’t you see he’s injured? What’s wrong with you, lady?
TANKISO: I’m sorry, Miss, but if he doesn’t have medical insurance, he can’t come here.
KYLE: My arm…can you at least give me a bandage or something?
TANKISO: I’m afraid I’m not qualified to do that, Sir. I’m not a doctor.
TAHIERA: Well, FIND a doctor. This is a hospital, isn’t it?
TANKISO: As I just told you, Maam, unless you have medical insurance, that you would have to pay cash.
TAHIERA: I don’t believe this. This is ridiculous. Call your manager. I want to talk to them right now.
TANKISO: I am the manager, Ma’am, and I advise you to watch your tone with me.
Time for an activity, y’all!
Pick a number between 1 and 8
Pick a day of the week
Pick a colour of the rainbow.
Don’t read further until you’ve done that!
- A brother (14) and his sister (8)
- A doctor and their patient
- A robot and its inventor
- 3 aunties
- Kim Kardashian and Kanye
- Adele and a super-fan
- A cat and a priest
The Who: Your characters are the number you chose: For example, if you chose 6, your characters will be Adele and a super-fan.
MONDAY: A massive argument about money
TUESDAY: A secret is revealed that changes everything
WEDNESDAY: They are lost and scared
THURSDAY: Somebody is accused of theft
FRIDAY: One of the characters has lost their memory
SATURDAY: One of the characters has come back from the dead
SUNDAY: They are all contestants a reality tv show
The What: Your scenario is the day of the week you chose: For example, if you chose FRIDAY, one of the characters has lost their memory in your scene
Pink: In the queue at the supermarket
Purple: At a funeral
Green: At the Oscars
Blue: At the top of the Eiffel Tower
Yellow: In a taxi
Orange: In an elevator
Red: In Parliament
The Where: Is the colour you chose. For example, if you chose PINK your scene will be in a queue at the supermarket.
So, if we picked 6, Friday, Pink, our scene would have these elements:
The Who: Adele and a super-fan
The What: One of the characters has lost their memory
The Where: In the queue at a supermarket
When you have your characters, what happens and where it happens, you are going to write the scene. It should be a minimum of 15 lines. But if you feel like doing more, follow your gut!
Remember to make your scene more textured and real by being specific and adding details. Actions can show the audience how the character is feeling. Directions for their tone also show how they are feeling.
Go for it!
(Thanks to Francesco Nassimbeni for this chapter)