I went to a play reading the other night. The playwright has a lot of experience, has gotten awards, has gotten work produced around the country. So I was surprised at how weak the play was, given the playwright’s experience etc. Even though it was just the second draft, I think that after a while, you can skip some of the steps that have you writing weak, low-stakes stories.
Of course, maybe that playwright usually writes stronger second drafts. Maybe he was sick, or was swamped in his day job, or something like that. There could be a reason.
But why not start out strong?
Here’s what I think you can do to get to strong, high-stakes stories quickly.
- Start with high-stakes characters.
Choose characters with high stakes. Find those characters who have the most to gain or lose.
- Find a high-stakes situation.
Decide on the circumstances, find a time and or a place where something is happening that the characters care deeply about.
- Know what the characters want.
Know what each character wants from every other character, what they absolutely must have, what’s life-or-death important to them.
- Write the highest-stakes scenes.
Figure out what the highest-stakes points of the story are. Set your characters loose, in the situation, and have them pursue their wants in the most important ways, at the most important times of the story.
You’ll avoid problems and get straight to what you’re passionate about
If you do this, you’ll avoid a whole bunch of problems without even thinking about them. You won’t have scenes that don’t go anywhere. You won’t have characters that seem unimportant. You won’t have boring scenes.
Of course, you’ll refine your characters, the situation, their wants, and the highest-stakes scenes as you go along. And you can always write whatever you feel like an any given day, if you have an impulse, or want to explore something.
But start out making strong, bold choices. You’ll get to what you’re passionate about, why you’re telling this story, much quicker. Given how busy our lives are, why waste what time we have to write?