Longtime readers of this blog know I like to blather about what writers can learn from other forms of storytelling (movies, TVs, verbal, etc). Last night I saw This is Our Youth at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago. While I really liked the play and the performances were great, this post isn’t a review of the play or its actors. I want to analyze the play as a storytelling format.
I’ve only been to a few plays (and hope to see more in the future), but I’ve noticed some differences in technique.
1. Show vs. Tell. Playwrites seem to throw this maxim right out the window. Because plays are told with a small number of scenes and very few sets (the plays I’ve seen have only had one set), flashbacks are non-existant. Information pertinent to characterization or plot has to be worked into the dialogue through thinly-veiled info-dumps. This medium is info-dump city. Playwrights could be called info-dump engineers.
2. Dialogue does the heavy lifting. Characterization, motivation, backstory, foreshadowing–all of it has to be done through dialogue. You’d think it’s a no-brainer, right? It’s not, though. The next time you watch a movie or TV show, notice the exposition (where the director shows you specific visuals in sequence to tell a story). A training montage would be an example of this. Exposition is really hard to pull off in a play, so it’s basically non-existent.
I’m sure I’ll revisit this again as I see more plays, but those are the two storytelling techniques that stand out for me.