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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Be able to say what your play is about in a couple of lines as if you’re pitching it to a producer.
- Your story needs to be filled with emotion, passion, and dreams.
- Set up the protagonists and story clearly.
- If you have characters who are new immigrants, they wouldn’t use words like “acronym,” for example. Keep your language true to the characters.
- Your early scene should be a cliff hanger, leaving the audience dying to know what’s going to happen.
- Know what your central dramatic question is. What is at stake?
- Do not tell about a character. Reveal the character himself through his actions and dialogue.
- 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.