Playwriting

Playwriting Exercise: Now I Know

Proof of beard tax payment. What's that? Read on!

Proof of beard tax payment. What’s that? Read on!

Are you one of those people who hate the adage “write what you know” because you don’t think you know anything? Have I got the solution for you! I’ve recently signed up for the email newsletter Now I Know. It’s a free daily newsletter where you’ll learn something new every day. What a great resource for a playwright! The thing that makes our plays pop is specificity. The more specific we can be with our characters and our dialogue the easier it is for the audience to connect. It’s easier for the audience to create pictures in their minds to match your words.

The details that come with the daily Now I Know are not brief quips. Each is an in-depth article, often with bonus facts about whatever piece of information they’re sending your way.

Playwriting Exercise

For each fact pulled from Now I Know, there is an accompanying scene prompt. Write the scene. If the fact inspires you to go in a different direction with your scene, by all means write that. The key is to keep writing.

  • From 2010 through 2012, housing prices soared 50%, per CNN, making an affordable home a pipe dream.
  • Jacinto Tong, the “tycoon of parking spaces” owns two parking spots valued at roughly $640,000 — each.

These two facts were pulled from the same article. I like the image of a “parking space” tycoon, and the fact that because housing land is so valuable, his bare parking spaces are worth so much. Consider these scene prompts:

  • Write a scene that takes place in the office of a ‘tycoon of parking spaces.’ What is he like? Who would come to meet with him? Think of what a character would offer the tycoon for one of his spaces. Would the tycoon be interested?
  • Write a scene in which a husband and wife are so desperate to get a house that they are wiling to do anything to raise the necessary funds.
  • Write a scene that takes place on a ruthless game show where the prize is a house
  • Write a scene where a group of people fed up with the housing crisis stage a protest on a parking spot.

This next fact is interesting because it creates an instant image in my head of a scene:

  • The broken window theory. The theory suggests that the aftermath of petty crimes (such as graffiti, litter, and, unsurprisingly, broken windows) act as signals that crime is tolerated locally, and, therefore, more serious crimes would be as well.

I just get this image of a broken window acting like a calling card. I can also see people overacting at seeing the broken window and foreshadowing what was to come – without actually knowing if the broken window was indeed a sign or just the act of a baseball.

  • Write the scene where a couple sees a broken window and one overreacts about what that means. They go overboard imagining their quiet suburban street is going to turn into a war zone.
  • Write the scene where a crime syndicate, real baddies, debate the validity of using the broken window signal. Really use contrast – make it a highly sophisticated debate around their lowlife activities.
  • Write a scene in which the police go overboard for petty crimes in an attempt to stop the broken window theory.

Another great fact that creates an instant image:

  • Peter the Great (tzar of Russia from 1682 until his death in 1725) taxed beards. “Peter saw facial hair — especially long beards — as a carryover from the days of Russian antiquity…Peter ordered military officers to shave their beards, wanting to mimic what he saw as the more refined culture of the West. In 1705, that order applied to almost all men, from the Russian nobility (known as Boyards) down to the poorest peasant. (Clergy were excepted from the ban.) …Peter instituted a sliding-scale beard tax, the price of which varied based on the class and occupation of the owner of the hair-adorned face. Pay it, and you get to keep your beard; otherwise, prepare to shave.”

Come on, isn’t that the most awesome thing you’ve heard today? Can you imagine a beard tax?

  • Write a monologue where a man is giving a speech to a crowd of people. He wants them to rise up and fight the beard tax. Why is it important to him? What does he get out of wearing a beard? What is his slogan?

Did You Know? The rhyme Humpty Dumpty has been around since 1797 and in the original there’s no indication that Humpty is an egg…..

About the author

Lindsay Price

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