Verbatim Theatre Lesson 5: Structuring your play

Task 1

Add the new research you’ve completed to the previous research and continue to annotate it under these headings:

  • Useful to creating and telling a story.
  • Useful to creating characters
  • Useful to establishing backstory
  • Useful to wider plot but not directly related to focus

Reflect on the research you’ve done so far. Continue to try to condense each piece of meaningful research you’ve done by condensing it down into a 5- or 6-word summary of it. Write these summaries on different pieces of paper or post notes.

Spread these pieces of paper across the floor, your table or wherever you are working. Then find a way of drawing links between pieces of research. Look for the following:

  • Where people are talking about the same thing
  • Where people are the same age, gender or background
  • Where people have similar viewpoints on an issue as others
  • Where people disagree over issues
  • Link in chronological order as well, earliest memory to most recent.

Task 2

Once you have spread your research out and have a sound understanding of what you have gathered and what it is telling you, try to match it to the following stucture:

  1. Exposition: the portion of a story that introduces important background information to the audience; for example, information about the setting, events occurring before the main plot, characters’ back stories, etc. 
  2. Rising action: a series of events build toward the point of greatest interest.
  3. Climax: the turning point, which changes the protagonist’s fate. 
  4. Falling action: the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist unravels, with the protagonist winning or losing against the antagonist.
  5. Dénouement: events from the end of the falling action to the actual ending scene of the drama or narrative.

Task 3

Watch this YouTube video produced by the National Theatre and take notes on writing effective dialogue.

Task 4

Go back to your plan you made in Task 2 and refresh yourself with the overall story arc you have created.

Now look more closely at the exposition and if you haven’t already, make notes on the following things:

  • Where is the play set?
  • What year is the play set?
  • What time of year is the play set?
  • What are the key characters involved in the play?
  • What are the key events that occur before the play?
  • What are the individual backstories to the key characters?

Task 5

Let’s think now more specifically about what happens in the first scene? Answer these questions.

  • When is the first scene set?
  • What characters are in the first scene?
  • What happens in the first scene?
  • What is the atmosphere you want to create in the first scene?
  • What key plot needs to be revealed in the first scene?
  • What needs to be revealed about the characters in the first scene?

Task 6

You are going to write the first ten lines of dialogue for the first scene in your play.

Of course, you will be using the dialogue, research and interviews from your research. But you will still probably need to write some dialogue or action yourself to help interpret the research for the audience and to address the information listed in Task 4 and 5.

When you are ready, read through your dialogue with someone else in your house. Does it flow? Does it make sense? Does it achieve everything you wanted it to do? Does it include character names? Change it if appropriate.