There’s so much to say about the amazing song writer and lyricist, Stephen Schwartz, but probably just mentioning that he wrote the lyrics and music for Wicked would be enough. I just got home from an ASCAP Foundation New York Musical Theater Workshop which was directed by Stephen Schwartz with panelists Lynn Arrens and Andrew Lippa.

Here’s what I learned in the discussion that could benefit all writers, regardless of what you’re writing.

  1. The order of the scenes if crucial. If the order is wrong, the show will fritz. Sometimes your last scene needs to be your first one, etc.
  2. You have to know and show who the lead is from the get-go. The audience has to know who to follow. Who am I supposed to like? If you introduce too many characters in  a strong way too early, the audience won’t have an alliance to any of them.
  3. Be able to say what your play is about in a couple of lines as if you’re pitching it to a producer.
  4. Your story needs to be filled with emotion, passion, and dreams.
  5. Set up the protagonists and story clearly.
  6. If you have characters who are new immigrants, they wouldn’t use words like “acronym,” for example. Keep your language true to the characters.
  7. Your early scene should be a cliff hanger, leaving the audience dying to know what’s going to happen.
  8. Know what your central dramatic question is. What is at stake?
  9. Do not tell about a character. Reveal the character himself through his actions and dialogue.
  10. Simplicity is the hardest, but most effective thing. The writing shouldn’t be about how clever the writer is, but about the characters and how to tell their story in a clear and humble way.