The Play’s The Thing: How to Let Characters Drive the Story

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.

-William Shakespeare

I have heard a lot of conflicting writing advice in my years. But one big conflict that I’m still having trouble getting over is the issue of plot versus character. In the past, I was very character-driven. However, in trying to fix myself, I have now leaned way too hard on plot and keep getting feedback about my characters feeling more like chess pieces.

So how the heck do you resolve this issue? When a character takes over the story, the plot basically becomes like a black hole, revolving all around them and dragging everything else along with it. When the plot is driving the story, the characters feel boring.

As William Shakespeare said in Hamlet, “The play’s the thing.”

I used to do theater in high school and college. Even though I don’t have a lot of theater experience, I still learned a lot from memorizing monologues and acting out scenes in class. When you’re acting you (quoting Lizzie Bennet Diaries here) “open yourself up to inhabiting another person or letting another person inhabit you.” Actors put a lot of thought into embodying the character they play, no matter how small the role may be.

Emotion is really the driving force behind a good story. The reason why a majority of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies have worked is because there are always emotional stakes behind all the action scenes. We care for the characters. The same applies to My Hero Academia. It’s a series with a perfect balance of plot/action and character-driven moments and you slowly start to see the characters develop in between all the fights or even as the action is happening.

Basically, creating a novel is basically like putting on a one-man show where you play all the characters at once. No matter how crazy it may seem, every character you create is a part of you. Some characters will feel more like you than others, but every character comes from something inside you, even if it’s the worst part of you.

What does that all mean when it comes to plotting a story?

Plot is created by decisions the characters make and the consequences that result from those actions. You might have the characters react to things at first, but there needs to be a point where the characters take initiative.

How the heck can we figure out how to make sure our characters drive the story without getting lost?

Aside from taking an acting class, I recommend looking into musicals and studying Shakespeare plays. The most memorable musicals have character-driven moments that still move the plot along. I think of musicals like Hamilton, WickedThe Great Comet of 1812, and even the Heathers musical. Check out this essay as to why:

 

I hope that you take some time to get in touch with your inner actor.

A Not So "Ordinary" Update

In the world of television, theatre, and other media that involves actors, there are always going to be changes. Such in the case of the web original sitcom “Ordinary.”

Timothy Quigley, the creator of Ordinary, recently announced that three of the major actors have left the show. Given that the show was crowdfunded, Timothy turned to his audience for help regarding this situation.

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(I voted for option C, which involves Ruthie and Frances being so badly damaged by the fire that they get major reconstructive surgery, which explains why they look different.)

Casting calls for Ruthie, Frances, and Brigit have been posted on Craigslist, IMDBPro, and Backstage. If you are in the Lancaster area or even within the tri-state area, I highly recommend you audition for this show. And if you want to know more about the show, you can watch the videos on demand at Vimeo.

 

 

 

How Job Interviews Are Like Theater Auditons: A Short Play

The names in this screenplay have been changed to preserve the confidentiality of the involved parties. Not based on actual events.

ACT 1

Scene 1

At rise:

 

It is a gray, rainy afternoon. A young woman, MARIA, enters S.L. dressed in a long black trenchcoat and black ankle boots. She runs quickly to the building’s entrance and greets the front desk receptionist, JOANNA, a slightly older woman.

MARIA

Hi. I’m here for the job interview.

JOANNA

Might I ask who you talked to?

MARA

The manager? I forgot her name.

The office manager, DONNA (late 20s, early 30s), stands up from behind her desk.  

DONNA

That would be me.

Donna leads Maria up to a conference room that looks more like an empty stage. Maria stands center stage and takes off her trenchcoat, revealing a silvery grey blazer over a green pinstripe shirt and black trousers. 

DONNA

So you’re here to interview for the assistant position of our children’s department. Please explain to me why you think you’d be good for this job.

MARIA 

It’s been a while since my last interview. To be honest, I want this job because I’m saving for grad school and I want to keep working here even after I get in. I’ve been making the most of my time by volunteering with children at the local community center. I work as a tutor, helping them out with their literature, math, and even foreign language. I’ve been doing that for the past few months. I love working with children. The best thing about working with kids is seeing the passion they have for learning anything. People think that kids are stupid and they hate learning. I think they just hate the way things are taught. Keep them engaged and immersed in activities and they learn as they go. I actually directed a couple of skits as part of my job. It was chaotic and the kids weren’t exactly Oscar-winners, but I loved them anyway. All the world is a stage, you know. In fact, this whole interview is a lot like an audition for a play. I read over the things you require me to play in this role and do my best to show that I can play this part. I have to be flexible, on my feet, ready to improvise at a moment’s notice. I have to take orders from the director, or in this case manager. I have to deal with a hectic schedule and whatever I get paid, I’ll take. Only instead of memorizing monologues, I have to monologue on the spot with answers that will hopefully cater to whatever you’re looking for. Funny thing is that after every interview I go to, I listen to A Chorus Line’s “I Hope I Get It.” And unfortunately, I end up not making the auditions. But you know what they say, fall seven times, get up eight. The show must go on. Thank you.