Plots – “Oh, no, what could be worse?”

We all have problems figuring out what happens in our plays. Here’s something I learned in improvisational theater, years ago, that’s helped me develop plots.

Ask yourself, how can things be worse for my main character?

The first full-length play I wrote was a tragedy. Seriously. Everything bad that could happen to the main character did happen to the main character.

Whenever I got stuck with the plot, I used this improvisational theater game I learned years ago. It’s called “Oh, no, what could be worse?”

Use the game “Oh, no, what could be worse?”

It goes like this.

Everyone stands in a circle. The first person makes up a statement about something happening to someone. Then everyone in the circle says, in unison, “Oh, no, what could be worse?” Then the person to the right (or to the left) of the first person makes up another statement about something happening to that someone.

Whatever happens, it has to be worse than what’s happened already, and it has to follow from what’s happened already. And the game goes on, around the circle, until the worst possible thing has happened to the main character.

An example of the game

Person 1: “Melissa lost her wallet.”
Everyone: “Oh, no, what could be worse?”
Person 2: “So she couldn’t pay for her lunch.”
Everyone: “Oh, no, what could be worse?”
Person 3: “The restaurant made her wash dishes.”
Everyone: “Oh, no, what could be worse?”
Person 4: “She cut off one of her fingers while washing a knife.”
Everyone: “Oh, no, what could be worse?”

And so on. It could end anywhere. Maybe Melissa can’t stop the bleeding from the stump of her finger, so she goes to the emergency room, but they won’t treat her because she can’t prove that she has insurance (her health insurance card having been in her wallet), so she bleeds to death.

Applying this game to your plot

If you don’t know what happens to your main character next, just ask yourself, over and over, what could be worse? If you want it to be a TRAGEDY, keep going until the character has lost everything, or is dead, or is in hell. Something like that.

This works for tragedy (which was where I used it), but it also works for comedy (think about “Noises Off” or “Lend Me a Tenor”).

How I used this for a play of mine

In my play “Just That One Nice Evening,” I used this game to figure out what happened to Frank, my main character.

About the play: “Just That One Nice Evening”

The play is set in 1932. Frank is a widower with three children: John, age 19; Ruth, age 16; and Billy, age 14. They run the general store in a small town in the western foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State.

Developing the plot with “Oh, no, what could be worse?”

I’ll start with where the sh*t starts hitting the fan for Frank.

Frank’s daughter, Ruth, came home from a date with a visiting Navy man, crying.
Oh, no, what could be worse?
He thought she’d been raped, so he got her brothers and they tarred the young Navy man, and feathered him, and drove him out of town.
Oh, no, what could be worse?
Frank’s younger son, Billy, was so disturbed by what they had done, he started shirking his duties at the store.
Oh, no, what could be worse?
Frank made Billy quit school.
Oh, no, what could be worse?
Billy ran away from home.
Oh, no, what could be worse?
Ruth married the nephew of the town banker, a widower ten years older than her with a 3-year-old daughter, just to get out of her dad’s house.
Oh, no, what could be worse?
John, Frank’s older son, started beating his girlfriend.
Oh, no, what could be worse?
John neglected the store, and they began to lose money.
Oh, no, what could be worse?
Ruth got pregnant, and died in childbirth.
Oh, no, what could be worse?
Frank got in a fight with Ruth’s husband, and was thrown in jail.
Oh, no, what could be worse?
The store went bankrupt.
Oh, no, what could be worse?
John left town to work at a store in another town.
Oh, no, what could be worse?
Billy came to see his dad in jail, but instead of reconciling with him, walked out of his life for good.
Oh, no, what could be worse?
Frank was in jail, with no family, no store, no livelihood. He had nothing left.

That’s TRAGEDY. And that’s a plot.

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This entry was posted in 1. Get Inspiration, 2. Dealing with Writer's Block, How to Create Plots. Bookmark the permalink.

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