Andrew Piper, 27 January 2013

I'd anticipated this as being a discussion about the theoretical or archetypal qualities of

a story that make it good or universal, but in fact became much more about the craft of

play writing.

I called this session because I'm an actor and thought I ought to know what made a

good story, but when I set out to try to write a play (about religion and science) I

floundered and couldn't come up with a story. Hence my question…

Various pieces of advice came out:

• Do your research - you must be able to bore someone at a party with how much

you know about your subject

• Think about the mythological aspects of the story

• Get to know your characters

• Write 50 things about your protagonist as an exercise

• Be very specific with your characters; ironically, this is the way to find the universal

• Think of an activity (perhaps proseic) that your character will have to do to get his

objective - eg renting a room - and then imagine how he will react to something

different - e.g. damp/mould in the room

• “Whenever I’ve come up with the plot before the character I’ve never finished the

play! It’s really hard to get the character to behave correctly for the plot to


• If this is your first play and you’ve got a big idea – write something else first!

Do you always have to have a sympathetic protagonist?

I don’t think they should be too sympathetic otherwise they’re dull.


• There's a video on YouTube about Kurt Vonegut – structure of stories

• Start at bottom, work up

Start at middle, crash, work up to top

Start at top, crash back, work up to top

• Look at Stella Duffy's – graph on story tensions

• Story needs a good ending

• Ending makes sense of the story

• Can an ending be frustrating?

• I like an ended where the character could take a number of paths, and leave the

audience wondering what they will do next?

What is it that attracts you to a story for a play?

“It needs to be fascinating. I like science – heart transplant, immunology, physics so

that's what I write about”

“Can be good not to understand too well – because that ‘trying to make sense’ can be


Attend to the micro & macro – individuals and wider story

What’s ‘human’ about the story?

There’s a difference between “I want to talk about this” and “I want to say this” - It's

difficult to write character if you’re being didactic.

Pull themes out of the later drafts rather than trying to write theme in the first draft

Seven Stories – no use at all when you’re starting, but useful to look back when you’ve

finished to see whether you've written ‘Cinderella’ or ‘Sleeping Beauty’ etc

Don’t set out to write a good story. Write it: maybe it will be good, maybe it won’t, but

setting out to be good will block you

How do you know what medium your story is for?

“You don’t necessarily know until part way through the writing!”

Wait a couple of months after finishing writing before getting actors to work with it.

Finding empathy

Wants, objectives, blocks etc – same technique for acting as for writing

BUT it's easy to over-think the structure (like super objectives) – so just write – let the

2nd draft take care of these

Story must fascinate you; the characters must be sympathetic

You have a relationship with your play – for better or for worse

Kill your darlings!

Further Reading:

Joseph Campbell – ‘Hero with a thousand faces’

Story by Robert McKee

Film: ‘Adaptation’ - Joel & Ethan Coen


Writing, Story, writing, playwright, structure, story, stories, plays, Storytelling, Plays,