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Advanced Playwriting

2: Where Do The Ideas Come From?


Students will understand process of idea generation for script writing by creating storylines from guided and free writing exercises.

Lesson Directions

Anticipatory Set/Hook

Share an embarrassing story from your life for your students. Make sure that the story follows a strict plot structure. Have other students, if they wish, share embarrassing stories from their lives.


TRANSITION: Review the plot structure with the students (exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action) stressing that this structure is second nature to us and is how we normally tell stories. Our brains have been trained to think this way. Using stories told by yourself and the class, demonstrate how they fit the plot structure format.

STEP 1: The execution of a play storyline will be easier for us than the germ of the idea, because our brains have been trained. Story generation is the difficult part. Remind the students that even plays from anti-realist movements have some story structure despite the belief that they are unstructured or random. No matter what type of play they want to write, they need to start with a story. (Waiting for Godot has an established storyline – two tramps waiting for the arrival of a person who keeps stalling his/her arrival, as does Bald Soprano – a dinner party where the guests are unable to effectively communicate with one another.)

STEP 2: Have the students gather in a circle. Have the students take out a piece of paper. On the paper, have each student write phrases from the lyrics of three different songs. Each phrase should be less than 6 words and should be a phrase that has an impact on the student because of the idea or imagery behind it.

STEP 3: Have the students pass their paper to the person to their left. On the paper in front of them, have the students write 8 descriptive words. The words can be any sort, but they need to have flair and not be ordinary words.

STEP 4: Have the students pass their paper to the person to their left. On the paper in front of them, have the students write three sentences describing very strong visual images. They can images that they have seen live (a house burning at night), in photographs (a man in a top hat peering down from a tree in the fog), or, perhaps in dreams (a clown with big hands playing a drum).

STEP 5: Have the students pass their papers to the left. Have all students pair up with another student making sure that neither has a paper that either has contributed to. Each pair of students needs to create two storylines based on the things written on both of their papers. The storyline should be 5-6 sentences explaining the exposition, the introduction of a conflict, the reaction to the conflict and a possible resolution. The students do not need to use all words on the papers, but I usually give them a minimum (one lyric, one image, and four descriptive words for each).

STEP 6: After the storylines are created, have some pairs share the best storyline they came up with. Discuss the strengths of the storylines, and some problems that may arise in transferring the story into a play.

STEP 7: Assign each student to bring two possible story ideas to class next time. The format of the storyline should be the same as done in class today (5-6 sentences explaining each element of the story). Stress that the scripts will be 15 minutes in length, so students should focus on stories that can be presented in that time frame. Challenge the students to take interesting steps in generating ideas. Look to sources such as dreams, lyrics, images, characters, or relationships.


Students can be assessed by handing in the story ideas that they completed in class today.