Getting Unstuck: How To Go from Ideas To Script

Ready to create your show but have no idea how to begin? Or do you have written material but don’t like the way it sounds when you read/perform it aloud? (Too formal, too wordy, etc.?)

This is a tried-and-true, easy method to produce material for a solo show or to revise a scene so that it flows more naturally. I mentioned it in my From Defeat to Celebration post, but I’ll go into more detail here.

1a. If you know which parts of your life you want to include, choose any story from one of those periods. If you don’t know which parts of your life you want to include, then choose any story from your life—the first one that pops into your mind is usually just right.
1b. If the story is already written and you want to revise it, skip to the next step.

2. Tell the story out loud to a recording device–audio or video, it doesn’t matter. Smart phones usually have both kinds of apps.
2b. If the story is written, don’t read it. Just improvise (yes, you can improvise the telling of a true story) and record the improv.

3. Physically and verbally reenact the events in the story as much as possible. For instance, if your scene depicts you riding a bike to school: mime the act of riding the bike and say your age, where you are, where you’re going and why, and describe what you see/hear/smell/taste/feel. Mention as many sensory elements as you can remember.

4. Go for it. There is no wrong way to do this. It is not about trying to be “good” or “interesting” or any such thing at this point. Forget all that. You’re simply telling your story in a safe space with as much detail as possible. Include every single detail that you care about.

5. When you’re finished, walk away. 

6. The next day, watch or listen to it and transcribe it word for word.

  • How we tell our stories off the top of our heads is usually more dynamic than any essay we’ll ever write.
  • If you already had a written version of the scene, the improvised version is the edit. You can also merge the original written version with the improvised monologue to “finesse” the scene, if you like.

7. Do this for every scene in your show. Choosing what stays in the final draft comes later. I’ll write about that in another post.

The main thing you’ll learn from this process: “telling” it takes fewer words than writing it because facial expression, body language, and specific gestures are microcosms of storytelling on their own. Your body and face will encompass worlds within the story, which will both enrich it and save precious stage time.

I’m excited for you to learn and discover and hopefully be liberated by this process! Go forth, mighty solo show performer, and tell it like it was and is. Your story wants to be told by you, in your way, with your words, off the top of your magnificent head.

BONUS: Great stuff on developing characters for your solo show:

Announcement: I’m leading new solo show and memoir workshops in August and September. Give me a holler here if interested.

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