WRITING A STORY OR PLAY?
REMEMBER: Don’t wait for ‘the perfect idea’ — Just MAKE YOUR STORY START MOVING, one line at a time!
— Don’t be afraid to drop right into the CONFLICT.
— QUIET conflicts are deep, and real, and people like reading stories that have relatable, ‘quiet’ conflicts: competition in the workplace; ‘frienemies’ in school or within circles of friends; money troubles; romantic interests/doubts/complications; personal struggles with self-doubt, loneliness, rejection, procrastination, substance abuse…
— If your character is ‘real’, then these kinds of ‘real’ conflicts will be interesting, and give you opportunities to create meaningful, ‘grabby’ stories!
— As much as possible, SHOW, DON’T TELL. Actions speak louder than words… A picture is worth a thousand words… “Each noun or verb is worth a dollar; each adjective or adverb is worth five cents.”
— ‘Paint’ your characters. Show them in motion. Actions, gestures, and facial expressions give us a sense of who people are.
— Most importantly: Put your main character(s) into situations where they have to ACT, REACT, & MAKE CHOICES & DECISIONS!
VIVARIUM by Chris Weidenbach (a ten-minute play – opens as a Word doc.)
–You can also read it on this webpage: https://laney.edu/chris-weidenbach/creative-writing/creative-writing-documents-links/
–As you read, notice how the stage directions are formatted differently than the spoken lines, and how they are all written in immediate present-tense.
Here’s a current project CDub is working on — following his own advice!
National Night Owl
Sara was trapped: Here was her neighbor, Ruth, who had only ever been ridiculously friendly even though they barely knew each other, standing at her door with an invitation to the National Night Out block party that Sara had blown off for five years in a row. She couldn’t think of an excuse. So “Okay, I’m looking forward to it,” she lied, smiling. And now she would have to attend. And make small talk with relative strangers. And eat someone’s ‘trademark casserole’ or their Aunt Bertha’s potato salad. And act like she didn’t notice the older men from the neighborhood checking out her cleavage, her legs, her neckline — all those creepy glances they thought they could get away with and cover up by talking about their fruit trees and the Neighborhood Watch schedule.
Ruth’s face lit up as she handed Sara the little flyer. “You don’t have to bring anything, or anything!” Ruth said, waving her hands to dismiss that whole area of thought. Then she put her hands on her hips, and added, “But you know, if you want to bring something, we could probably use either non-alcoholic beverages or something deserty! Whatever you want! Or nothing at all! Okay?”
Sara didn’t feel any magical ideas jump to mind. “I’ll give it some thought,” she said, and before Ruth retreated away from the porch, she told Sara how glad she was that the neighborhood would finally get to know their mysterious young neighbor!
TAP-TAP-TAP — Blinking awake, Sara accepted Sunday morning, and considered whether to check the door. Ten years in this house, and she still hadn’t gotten around to installing a workable doorbell. Her rare visitors just knocked on the door. There was a heavy brass knocker, but almost nobody ever used that, even on Halloween. Had someone knocked with the knocker at 9 or 10am on a Sunday? If so fuck them, she thought, and luxuriated in the thought that she could stay in bed til Noon if she wanted to.
But the morning light had registered in her rods and cones, and now even with her eyes fully closed, and even with the pillow covering every part of her face except a little crevice for breath, she couldn’t deny it. Her brain had blown the work-whistle, and all the neurons were clocking in. Might as well get up and make something out of this freebie day. — Oh yeah, there might be someone loitering on her little concrete slab porch, waiting for her to answer the knock. Fuck them, but not fuck them.
The rectangle of white paper was all but inside the door, one corner still hidden. Sara opened the door and put one foot on the slab — warm already. But nobody there. She picked up the piece of paper: the same flyer Ruth had given her two days before, only this time it had a maroon ink-stamped addition: “2 Days Away!” The regular part of the flyer was business-like, but friendly enough. It had ten or so little block-like people, like the man and woman figures that sometimes mark gender-specific bathrooms, but in profile, and with their mouths open in little white triangles, and puffy speech-balloons floating above their heads. “Share your stories, discuss matters of shared import, learn each other’s names!” read the bold, clear letters below the stodgy figures. “Tuesday the 12th, 5pm-???” Sara tried to think if she’d ever seen Ruth’s flyers before, and didn’t recall ever taking one from her — but now maybe she had seen the speech clouds once, or even more than once, but bigger, hanging on the wooden utility post out by the sidewalk that had like two thousand staples in it. She remembered Ruth coming up to her a couple of years before as she got home from a run, Ruth’s big, no-holds-barred smile locking Sara into an obliged pause to chat. “It’s the National Night Out this Tuesday!” Ruth practically sang, and Sara mentally kissed the ground knowing that she had been scheduled for the dinner shift at the bistro where she served and hosted, and so had an easy out.
The most inviting cheesecake Sara had ever seen glistened behind the bakery’s glass case: thin, symmetrical slices of kiwi and pineapple overlapped in a green and gold ring near the edge crust, and inside that ring were plump little jumbles of strawberries, blackberries and blueberries arranged so that each slice would have its own ample cluster of the perfectly ripe berries. Sara wasn’t going to bring non-alcoholic beer to a party, even if it was a weird, square neighborhood party occasioned by a nebulous organization that seemed like it was trying to force people to do something they would naturally do if they actually cared to get to know one another… “How much is that awesome-looking cheesecake?” she asked the bakery clerk, genuinely excited about bringing such a spectacular dessert to the party — and feeling a little flirty toward the clerk as well, a cutie with one neatly braided swath of hair dangling from her temple to her jawbone.
“It’s kinda like priced for a special occasion,” the clerk said, and Sara felt immediately relieved that it would be less expensive than she’d expected — but another possibility was beginning to suggest itself.
“Um, does that mean it’s on sale?” she asked, trying to ‘vote’ for this possibility — “or is it like richy-rich priced?”
The clerk turned her eyes down away from Sara’s, staring at the cake. “I think it’s…” — She slid the black glass door open, and bent down to look at the little card next to the bright, cheery cheesecake. “Yeah, um, it’s fifty.”
“WHAT?!” — It had come blurting out, twice as loud as Sara intended. “Fifty dollars? For real?” ” She tried to smile, but wasn’t amused, and couldn’t hide her disappointment.
“I’m sorry,” the clerk said. “I know.” She slid the door closed. “We have a new manager, and she said we were undercutting our profit potential in this new market — something like that. She jacked up the price of almost everything.” Sara was mentally saying ‘good-bye’ to the most beautiful cheesecake she had ever seen. “I would totally give you a discount, but the new manager is so new that none of us have figured out how to do that with her without getting caught. Yet.” This Sara appreciated.
“Oh, yeah, I don’t want you to get, you know, reprimanded or fired or something.” The clerk was nodding, pretty believably bummed, Sara thought. “Is there something else you’d recommend? I’m supposed to bring a dessert to a block party.”
“Oh yeah?” the clerk perked up — “Over on Firestone Street Tuesday night?”
“Yes!” Sara answered, her heart filling back up again. “How’d you — “
“I live around the corner, on Fern.”
“Oh, right! Fern!” — Sara was surprised at how surprised she sounded.
“Yeah, and my aunt always makes sure I come to the National Night Owl.”
“Oh, that’s cool…” Sara didn’t really care about correcting her, but thought she should, as a good neighbor: “It’s National Night out, by the way. I just saw it on the flyer on my way here.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right! My aunt corrected me the other day.” She giggled a little, but Sara didn’t think she was embarrassed. “So there’s a carrot cake that’s like half as much… or some pies, but they don’t go very far, and they’re still twenty-five each.”
“Hey, ya know what? Since you’ll be there, too, I’m just gonna go for it.” She was smiling right into the clerk’s eyes now. “The cheesecake!”
“Really?! Wow! That’s awesome! ” She slid the door back open, and leaned in for the cheesecake. “You must be a good neighbor!”
“Ha! I don’t know about that… I barely know anyone on my block — I mean I know a couple people’s names, but I’ve never talked with anyone other than this one lady who I’ve run into a couple of times. She’s who invited me. Ruth.”
“Ruth is my aunt!” the clerk said, now just as happy as could be. “She knows everybody!” She stood up with the lovely cheesecake balanced on her fingertips, like a waiter with a tray. “You know what?” she said, taking a look back toward the kitchen area. “I’m gonna help you out. If I can’t figure out how to swing it with the discount, I’ll just pitch in for half.”
“Oh! No, you don’t have to do that!”
“No, I do. I really do! I mean I want to! Besides, if I get busted, this job isn’t the greatest slice of pie anyway — Ha! ‘Slice of pie’!” Sara laughed with her, and the clerk swung her dangly braid up away from her eye to where it caught on her ear. Sara slid a swath of her own hair back behind her own ear. Something happening here, for sure.
The lid to the compost can by her sink would no longer balance on top of the pile of broccoli stalks, coffee grounds and shameful leftovers, so Sara carried it — away from her body, like a ticking time-bomb — out to the compost bin. Just outside her door, she heard people talking and laughing, and she looked over to see five or six of the people in the neighborhood setting up a hodge-podge of benches, patio tables and folding chairs. They were all at least in their sixties, a couple of them frail, grey-haired, looking quite stooped or extra-cautious as they helped each other lift and place a chair that Sara could lift with one hand. One man was standing under a patio umbrella, holding onto one of the spokes, and when he lowered his arm, that part of the umbrella sagged down and covered him up to the waist. Sara found this funny — a person visible only from the waist down; she thought of the people working behind counters, often visible only from the waist up, but this opposite effect was rare, like a puppet show. And just when this thought had registered, up the umbrella went again, revealing the man’s torso and neck and head, as he looked up into the apparatus again. And when Sara dropped the compost into the bin and let the lid to the bin bang shut, the man’s head tipped down so he was looking right at her. She had never seen him before, she thought — unless he were that guy who had the super chunky truck with the extra reflectors and the big tool box mounted in the bed. Maybe she saw him towing a boat on a trailer once? He smiled, a fleshy, doughy smile under a green ballcap and glasses. Middle-aged, tall, paunchy, and harmless — Harmless? Curious that this word popped into her mind, Sara smiled back a little, and lifted her hand in a little wave. The man waved back with his free hand, then looked back up at the umbrella while unlatching a tape-measure from his belt, lifting it up to measure the failed spoke.
Back inside, Sara checked the time: 2:40. The party wouldn’t start ’til 5:00. The middle-agers and elderly folks sure were living up to the stereotype: Early-birds! Sara’s generation were the type who showed up for 8 o’clock parties at 9:15… She would have to keep an eye on things, and if a decent crowd was on hand at five, she’d play it their way and show up on-time. — Okay, maybe 5:30. She wiped down the kitchen counter, set an alarm, and flopped down on the giant beanbag for a luxurious afternoon nap. Disco nap! she mentally giggled — more like a casserole nap!