I’m working on this one play for which I have a bunch of scenes. But I’m having trouble figuring out how it ends. And I’m having trouble figuring out how to get from here (the scenes I have) to there (the end).
This never happens to you, of course. 🙂
However, if it does… here’s something you can try to figure out what happens.
Ask yourself, what does my character want most in the world?
What your character wants most in the world is what he or she will work to get. The more clearly you know what your character wants most, the better you can figure out what the character will do. You’ll also know the kinds of situations the character seeks, and the kind of situation the character avoids.
Imagine the character’s “best possible outcome”
I got this idea from some research I did recently. Studies show that when people imagine the best possible outcome for some activity, they’re more likely to achieve that best possible outcome. It works for eating more fruit (we all know we should), improving your golf game (if you play golf), and being more optimistic.
I adapted this idea for playwriting like this:
Imagine the character in a future in which his or her life has had the best outcome it possibly could. Being as specific and vivid as possible, write down everything that would be true for that character.
An example of a character’s best possible outcome
The character: Elena McCracken
The main character in my play is Elena McCracken. She’s a passionately curious graduate student in psychology at Seattle University. In studying the psychology of minimally ambitious, middle-aged, white, male runners, she has stumbled on a secret government study… or has she? Did the U.S. government really conduct a study on very young boys back in the late 50s, early 60s, to try to turn them into germ-warfare soldiers when they grew up? And did that study actually cause the boys to start killing people once they turned 50 years old?
Elena’s best possible outcome
Suppose Elena is right. How will proving that the government did do that study help her achieve the best possible outcome in her life?
If I prove that the government really did that study, I can get my PhD from any university in the country. I’ll just take them the research, write my dissertation, and get my PhD. If I get my PhD from the most prestigious university in the country, I’ll have complete credibility. I’ll be able to get massive government grants. I’ll be able to start a think tank, and hire people to do investigations and write grant proposals that will keep the think tank going. And I will be able to investigate whatever I want to, for the rest of my life. I’ll have plenty of money and I’ll be able to satisfy my every passionate curiosity.
What I learned about Elena
Wow. Now I know why she cares. And I know that she’ll do whatever she can think of to get what she wants.
I also know what some of her blind spots might be. She’s convinced she’s a brilliant investigator, that her passion for finding things out will always help her get what she wants.
Some ideas for the plot of my play
- Elena is duped by a government agent who plants false information in her path. And what’s more, I already have a government agent in my play who would do exactly that!
- Elena is convinced that she has found proof of the secret government study. So she writes up a paper on it, and submits it to the head of the psychology department at Stanford University. But that person sees the flaw in her “proof,” and rejects her application to the doctoral program. What’s more, that person tells all of the influential people in the field about Elena’s proof that there was a “secret government study back in the 1950s to try to turn little boys into germ-warfare soldiers when they grew up – what an idiot” and everyone has a good laugh. Elena’s advisor tried to keep her from submitting that paper, but couldn’t. And guess what, I already have Elena’s advisor in the play!
- Elena is right, the study really was done. What’s more, she finds proof. But somebody ambitious steals the proof and publishes it first. Except I don’t have any character that’s that ambitious and would steal… wait, I do. Someone she’d never suspect.
Time to start writing, says the playwright, with a gleam in her eye. :>
And let me know how it helps you develop your plot.
If it doesn’t help you develop your plot, let me know that, too. I’ll see if I can make this technique more helpful.