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The Play’s the Thing: Part 1 By Dale Griffiths Stamos

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THE PLAY’S THE THING

Part 1: Prewriting
The Story Board

By Dale Griffiths Stamos
February 2010

Authorlink welcomes award-winning playwright Dale Griffiths Stamos as a regular monthly columnist.

"All of this was part of the filling the notebook phase . . ."
—STAMOS

At this stage of prewriting you’ve mapped out your story elements, determined your premise and gotten to know your characters through bios and first person monologues. You may also have jotted down ideas for scenes and bits of dialogue as they’ve come to you. All of this was part of the filling the notebook phase and, if you’re like me, your notebook is pretty packed by now.

So it’s time to move into the last phase of prewriting: your Story Board. This is a technique used by most screenwriters but one that is very useful to dramatists and other fiction writers as well.

All you need is a bulletin board and large index cards (5×8 work well). These index cards will contain a minimum of three key elements: Who is in the scene. Where the scene is taking place. And what the scene is about. Here’s an example card:

Mark and Joann, Joann’s apartment, Joann is breaking up with Mark

Try , when possible, to put an action verb in the sentence that describes what the scene is about. That verb will imply the movement of the scene. This is better, for example, than saying: Joann wants to break up with Mark. That is her inner desire. She may want to break up with him, but is doing everything to avoid it. So you want to establish what she is actively doing in the scene.

Although a card with these elements is all you need, you can also go a little further on the cards if you want. For example, you can break down the action beats of each scene. In this breakup scene for example you may have the following beats.

Joann is acting uncharacteristically irritable with Mark. Mark tries to find out what’s wrong, but Joann avoids answering. Mark presses and Joann tells Mark of her decision to leave. Mark does his best to persuade her to stay. But Joann ends up walking out.

You may also find, as you’re writing these scene cards, that dialogue comes to you, or interesting sub textual material. Jot these down on the back of the card, or on an additional card you can layer underneath the main one.

You will map out, in this way, as much of your play as you can. Then, you will put the cards up on the bulletin board in the order you think your scenes will happen. This is going to be a very flexible, fluid process. If you’re not sure what happens between one scene and another, then leave a space in between. If after looking at your board you think your sixth scene would work better as, say, your third scene, then change the order. If deeper questions come up as you ponder your board, then you can always return to your notebook and work out those questions in a more open-ended manner. Feel free, throughout, to change any elements on your cards by crossing out or erasing; or by removing entire cards and/or adding new ones.

"You want the content and order of your scenes to create a growing feeling of tension (rising action). . ."
—STAMOS

Essentially, you are looking to see if the flow of your scenes works dramatically. Notice where the play feels static, or where it doesn’t further the premise (remember that all important premise)! You want the content and order of your scenes to create a growing feeling of tension (rising action) that leads to an eventual (and inevitable) resolution.

In the end, like all the other elements of prewriting, story boarding is a tool – one that will help you move more smoothly into that important first draft.

About the Author About the Author: Dale Griffiths Stamos is an award-winning playwright whose work has been produced and published in the United States and abroad. She has been on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, and a guest artist at Cal Arts where she taught the workshop, Finding Your Story. For more information, go to www.dalegriffithsstamos.com