Here is one thing you could try. It might work, it might not.
One note first...a suggestions, keep all drafts. I don't know how many times I've re-written the hell out of something, only to go back to the original, and found out I cut some very important bits. You can name the files MY NEW PLAY d1, d2, etc.
Okay...so this is what you can try. Get some cards, or same-sized pieces of paper, and write the scene numbers on each one. Then throw them in the air, or shuffle them...whatever, and copy and past each scene in the order you pick them into a new file. You may only find something you've missed, but maybe juggling the scenes is the answer. When you start to rewrite, you'll find both wonderful surprises and some faux pas.
If it's a short play, do the same thing only write the different beats down...or try write it ending first.
Another idea is to put on music that suits the piece you are working on, read it aloud with someone, or change up your scenery. If you have a laptop, go to the cafe and drink coffee and write, or sit under a tree. If you don't have a lap top...paper and pen it.
And if your play isn't working yet...I'm an optimist, keep asking yourself...does this bit of dialogue forward the plot...define something of a character? If no, then you have to kill your babies. I've found most the the moments I think are 'most precious', are actually expendable.
I also suggested that we swap bad plays...the one you can't get write/right, with someone else who has one...doesn't everyone?...and get on your mark and set for hold your breath for some brutal critique... I mean...how long have you been stuck on this one? My bad play that I want to be great I've been fighting with for seven years.
If you try any of these, I'd appreciate you responding to whether or not it worked for you.
Paddy I've been struggling with a good idea that wouldn't become a play for four years. Too good to throw away it kept me awake at night until it suddenly dawned on me.... the strong chaaracter wasn't the young man marching off to the first world war, one of the heroes we Australians have been brought up to revere, it was his girl wife, the girl he left behind him who really was the strong one. Total change of story, completel rewrite and now it's the greatest play ever written.... this week ...give it a chance it's only a week old reality will set in soon enough.
Paddy, I find that changing the setting often works for me. As you know, my play titled Nightmare Camp, set in a summer camp, became The Orange Whistle, when you asked for plays set in a parking garage.
Then I changed the setting to a baseball stadium, resulting in Off The Charts/The Joy of Towing, an entirely new play with only one original character. The only constant is that this character still has nightmares.
I also did a second version, changing this character to a woman and adding another new character. The result:a new play with a different ending.
When a play isn't going anywhere, a change of scenery for the characters really helps. Those characters then need to respond to (and interact with) the new setting as well as each other.
Do any of the more experienced playwrights have any more tips along these lines?
My last play I worked on for four years. Literally, for years I struggled with what I thought was my play: three characters, one missing boy. Then after receiving some very good advice, I went back to the ur-play, the play that was inside me and needed to get out - that almost spiritual part of being a good playwright. And out of that came other characters who brought new textures and helped me understand the characters in a new light.
The very practical way I was advised to do this was to write a treatment, a scene-by-scene summary of what happens in the movie to whom. I went back to that god-awful summary almost every day for six months. At the end of the six months, the summary started to look like a completely new draft. You have to understand, this play took me forever - about 700 pp. of material - one excruciating 75 page monologue! - so seeing a clean, sleek, brand new draft appear, and, maybe more importantly, disciplining myself to achieve it was a great thing for me.
As you can tell by the previous sentence, my problem now is wordiness. I really need to edit more effectively.
Anyway, another piece of good advice I got on the TTPT forum: come at your play by other parts of your brain. Put it in a timeline, or score it in your head as if it were a movie. Ask yourself what the set would look like, what your characters are like, how they walk. This is something that will give your play a vibrancy that may inspire you. Of course, this information should be only minimally included in your final product. One thing experience has taught me is that it is a rare actor, director, set designer who really cares that much about how the playwright thinks they should do their job. But as a mental work out, I found it helpful.
can i offer a thought about light and temperature? like music, i think they can make a big difference.
i find that if i'm trying to write something with any emotional depth it helps me to work in the dark (okay maybe a desklamp). i live in the caribbean at the moment, and i've definitely noticed that my writing style is very different on the beach during the day to anything i write in (say) the aircon diveshack at night.
i have a friend who used to write for tv in south africa, and he firmly believed that hats were important. he would decide what hats his characters would wear and have a collection of them in the room - he said that looking at the hats helped on its own, but if he got stuck on dialogue he would put on the 'right' hat. he reckoned that how he saw out from under a hat, and how he felt wearing it, helped him get a different voice for each character.