Lee thinks about Scenario Building

last updated 1/26/08


My first thought is that Naked Playwriting's approach to writing plays is a kind of cart-before-the-horse ideology, or, as they say, plot first writing.  Write a pitch, get rid of what won't work, and keep what will, then write a scenario, get rid of what won't work etc.  The idea is that then you won't waste as much time later working on unpromising material or revising.

I think this can be true, but I also think there is a chicken/egg dilemma here.  You want to think about play structure, but if your characters are fleshed, the whole structure could easily change later.  As you know, I'm a character first writer, but I'm still finding this other approach to be interesting and instructional.

That doesn't mean that we shouldn't be doing character sketches before we do scenarios (scene outlines)!  Or that we should do pitches, character sketches, then event grids, then scenarios, then more character sketches, then a new scenario, a play draft, more character sketches, a new scenario, a new play draft etc.  In other words, be flexible about your process.

For now, though, NP ch. 4 is basically about outlining the action of your play, in other words a scenario where you break your play down into acts, scenes, and French scenes.  They focus on a two act play because they suggest that audiences won't go for more than one intermission.

The end of a first act is often the place where I would say either the Major Decision where the protagonist gets active (see the Event Grid from ch. 3), or when the Major Dramatic Question comes up (the central themes or premises become clearer).

I would say a scene change in a play can happen when the location needs to change (from inside a house, to a street outside), or when the time needs to change (i.e. the next day; a year later).

NP tells us a French scene in a play is when one of the characters either enters or exits (this is assuming there are multiple characters on stage at once).  Obviously a 10 minute play might only be structured as one or two French scenes.

NP shows us an example of a full-length, two act which they show a sample of on pp. 105-108.  Here's the basic outline of what you need to put in a scenario:


Working Title:  Ace in a Hole

Place:  New York City.  Soho.

Setting:  The William Henry Harrison, a transient hotel.  The setting is Ace Campbell's old room.  It's obvious from the faded clippings on the walls and the frayed upholstery that Ace has lived here many years.

Time:  The present.

Cast of Characters:

Act One

Scene & French Scene Characters Involved Action
Scene #1
French Scene #1
It's another day of bickering and waiting to die at the transient hotel . . .
French Scene #2 Ace
Mrs. Konigsberg enters with a letter telling Ace that his is to be evicted . . .
French Scene #3 Ace
Seeing that Ace is depressed, Konigsberg gets Lagatutta to come to her room, where they can fight in private.  Ace is left with Wink . . .