Contemporary Writing Techniques I Want To Promote Part I

Ed Ramsey

Before I start, I want to make it clear that I do not believe these styles of playwrighting are either superior or inferior to more naturalistic or traditional styles. What I want to do is share the exciting aspects of some of the stylistic elements I have encountered and use in my own writing that I think are worth being used more widely. I shall list three in this first part, and then another four in the next. So here we go. 

1. Writing without scenes

Traditional plays, indeed even some non-traditional entirely contemporary pieces still work in this traditional format of using scenes. But this is something which, ubneknownst to me or potentially many others, has actually gotten increasingly outdated without being discarded. What I mean by this is, that most modern pieces of theatre, either using older plays or newly written ones, both with scenes splitting up the action on paper, have no such split when on stage. Sometimes transitions mark the split, but increasingly the action melds together. I think this relfects what would be the positive effect of not having written scenes at all. And this is not to say that the piece should have unity of time, but more that it should aknowledge that life as the audience is looking at it, is a continuous mechanism, it doesn't really have 'scenes'. What's more I find it easier to write without thinking about how to divide each unit of action.

2. Characters without names or with weird names

The weird names came from Beckett, with whom I find myself consistently fascinated. Names like 'Estragon' (Waiting For Godot) or 'Hamm' (Endgame) make you think about and remember a character more than the names John or Matthew would. Now of course, if your style is very naturalistic, the more common names make sense and should probably take priority over unnecessary expressionism. However, I find that having weird names exposes the fun absurdity in life (hence the term 'absurdist theatre') and makes coming up with names slightly easier because the inspiration can be far more varied.  

Alternatively, something I find even more exciting, not naming characters at all can offer a solution to the problem of character naming. In one play that I was working on a few months ago, I only used numbers to identify certain characters, a style inspired by playwright Sarah Kane. It is an interesting approach because it forces you as a writer to ignore the trivial and materialistic things about a character, and focus on what I would argue are the more important things: love, pain, experience, memories, environment, opinions, emotions; all the stuff which really make us human. There is as much to be said for making use of the more trivial aspects, to be sure, but it's interesting even just as a character study to hold off on the names until the very end, if not entirely. 

3. Expressionistic language

This is a more vague one, and I appreciate how widely it works already. But I think even within the realms of naturalistic or realist theatre, elements of expressionistic language can be used. A good example might be Georg Buchner, who came before Brecht but exhibited a very contemporary and groundbreaking blend of naturalistic performance and expressionistic language on script. The result is a kind of poetry we see mostly in Shakespeare, where as an audience we both sympathise with the emotions of a character and yet are also entranced by their words. It's playwrighting at its finest. 

I'd like to talk about another few in further detail in the next part of the article, and I hope so far the reader has found these ideas worth spreading.