Thursday, July 1, 2021

Belmont Diary: Breaking the story

Before you can write a story, you have to know where it's going. That was the challenge that faced me this week as I sat down to hash out the story for my Belmont Day School commission

The play is to be a comedy/mystery set in a mansion with a cast of 40. It's not required, but I want to make it a single-set play because this'll make it much more marketable after it's published. I also love real-time plays like farces that forego scene breaks in order to keep the action going from lights up to lights down.

But how do you fit that many characters in a story, and make each role important (if not necessarily large)? I could have the play focus around a party, but that won't easily lend itself to the mystery that the kids want to perform.

Mysteries, on the other hand, tend to have one very large role--the detective investigating the crime, whether amateur or not--and lots of small roles representing the suspects. That won't work either, but the school specifically asked for eight of the roles to be major.

Nope. This play will have to have to be structured differently.

I think I finally came up with it. What if the eight roles represented the family--a dysfunctional one, with four adult children gathering for the reading of their late father's will? And what if the mystery wasn't about solving a murder, but finding some priceless object that the father hid--a treasure that represents his entire fortune?

And then, a complication. The night that the will is read, a storm hits the island where the mansion is located and the other islanders are forced to take a refuge in the mansion. This would provide the rational for a whole variety of small and medium roles, and they could pass through the set episodically, giving each small group of characters their own cherished time in the spotlight.

What's more, this would provide a funny, farcelike energy as the islanders learn about the treasure and promptly go rogue, each of them rifling through the mansion in their effort to find it first.

I'll have to play up the mystery, maybe add a riddle that leads the family to the treasure. And I'll need to work on the relationship angle, with the family learning to overcome their differences to find the treasure at the end.

But I think this'll work.

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