Generating Ideas for Writing - A Play in One Table

Many of the most intense moments in life have zero action in them. Many of the most intense moments in life are conversations, uncomfortable conversations. I have an idea about a play that concerns itself with only one conversation.

This picture came to me when I was in a half conscious state in between pain and sleep of two men at a table, sitting in a tense silence. I'm not sure what the conversation was about, but I could tell it was important; and uncomfortable.

Action is very popular in movies and television, but I have seen a number of plays where conversations were the real action, the dialogue was the real suspense, and I think this scene could fit in well. It got me thinking, "What if I did a play where the whole thing is just a single conversation at a table?", "Could I make that an intense emotional experience for the audience?" I don't know if I can, but it seems like it could be one of the most intense kinds of plays.

When you're at a restaurant there are conversations happening all around you. Most of those conversations you ignore, but when a conversation gets really intense everyone around knows it, and whether they directly look at that table or not, they are listening. Wouldn't it be better if they just ignored the fact that you wanted to watch them? That is the opportunity that this type of play could bring.

A structure for the play came to me pretty quickly as well, I'm not sure if it would be good, but I think that it could be very powerful. If you enter with an intense scene where the conversation has obviously taken a tense turn with a powerful, agonizing pause in the conversation, that is a perfect teaser. If I want a conversation where the tension is going to slowly build I want a teaser that is going to pull people through the story. The pilot of "Breaking Bad" is rather slow, but the teaser is so interesting you have to watch the whole show to see how they got from here to there.

At this agonizing pause in the conversation, close the curtain. At this point everyone is thinking, "What's going to happen?", and "How did they get here?" When you open the curtain again you are at the beginning of the conversation. I think a cool thing to do for exposition is to have a powerful speech that lasts for around 2 minutes, maybe less. You can use that little bit of exposition to note that you are moving to the beginning of the conversation, but that is a huge waste if that is all you do. My favorite format for public speaking, especially when I am doing extemporaneous speaking, is question-story-point. This play could basically follow that entire format. The intro after the teaser would be primarily about asking a powerful and thought provoking question. It could be a number of things depending on the conversation that is going to be had. You could have a conversation about a breakup, or a marriage proposal, or collecting a loan, or asking for a loan, or telling someone of a death, or any number of other things. Life can change in a single conversation, and often does. The question could even be, or start out as, something that general. "Has your life ever changed in a single conversation?" That is a powerful opening line for a speech, and I believe it could be part of a powerful opening for this play.

After the teaser and the intro the curtain will open back up and we will be at the beginning of the conversation. If this is at a restaurant I think you only really need to add one extra person, a waiter. You could, of course, add more if you wanted to. You could have basically an entire restaurant set up, you could also have a multiple person conversation with others already at, or also joining the table. That isn't what I was imagining though. The conversation could also happen at a different place, a kitchen table, or even a picnic table. This will be the story, slowly building tension, leading to that moment that we only caught a glimpse of at the beginning. The audience will be wondering, "How are we going to get from here to there?", "What is going to change?" That is the idea anyway.

When we reach that same teaser moment in the story we will pause again. This will be the moment for an extro. Another 1 or 2 minute talk making a point about how a conversation can change everything, or the importance of clear communication, or something else like that. The point has to be important, it has to be a strong message that people can agree with and see the wisdom contained within it.

After the extro the play will conclude with a shocking resolution of some kind. Something that is shocking, but inevitable. The idea is to create a play that has resonance, that is worth seeing multiple times, and that has the potential to be life changing in a single viewing.

I recently did a poll in a readers group that had a good response about why people read fiction. The top three results were 1) to escape the stress in your life 2) to gain a new perspective on life 3) to live vicariously. This style of play would allow for all three, but is primarily focused on gaining a new perspective on life.

A few years ago I flew from Michigan to California to see a play; "Runt of the Litter" by Bo Eason. That is the kind of attraction power that I think a play like this could have if done properly. That play is both written and performed by Bo, and only has the one actor, so I know it's possible to have a powerful play with even fewer characters than two. Bo's play grew out of an exercise given by the director and acting coach Larry Moss. He wrote an excellent book titled "The Intent to Live" that includes it.

Only a couple of years ago a woman at my Toastmasters group gave a speech where she acted out a conversation with her deceased mother. That is one of the most powerful things I have ever seen, so I know that a conversation can have that kind of power for an audience.

I do not think that this would be an easy play to create, not if you want to evoke the kind of emotion I am talking about, but I do believe it is possible, and I am very interested in it.

You are welcome to join me and see what happens next at

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