One of the most common pieces of advice you’ll hear from playwrights is to focus on character-driven stories.
But what does character-driven really mean?
Well, I can tell you what it’s NOT:
It’s NOT a play in which all the characters exist solely to fulfill a plot-related function.
Unfortunately, this is very common.
Many playwrights tend to plot out the story of their play in advance, and then populate that story with the characters they need to fulfill the necessary plot roles.
On the surface, that seems to make a lot of sense.
It’s only when you really dig into that story that you realize, more often than not, that this approach leads to writing characters who feel flat.
And the reason is simple:
Because you’re not letting them make any choices on their own. Instead, you’re forcing them to fit the mold your story requires–which often results in characters who lack the internal consistency and agency needed to feel real.
One alternative is to “write into the dark.”
The idea of writing into the dark, as I teach it, is to start with the most interesting, fascinating characters you can…then put them in an interesting situation.
And see what happens.
I can almost guarantee if you write this way, your characters will be more interesting–because it will be the characters who are making their own decisions, rather than you as the writer. (If you take my meaning.)
It’s sometimes called writing into the dark because you’re forging your path like a car driving through the dark–only able to see as far as the headlights.
Writing this way has some downsides.
You’re more likely to get sidetracked or distracted down a side-path that isn’t the true story you want to tell. That’s natural. Characters have a way of misleading you.
When that happens, just go back to the last place where your story felt right, and take a new fork in the road from there.
Writing this way can feel a little scary. But trust me when I say that you have the talent and the creativity inside you to write this way and to find the most unique and interesting story.
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