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Freewriting and Stream of Consciousness for Drama Scripts

Freewriting

If your drama course involves any degree of student scripting for self-devised pieces of work, then you are more than likely to have encountered students who struggle to put pen to paper. Often students become self-conscious or anxious about their ability to write dramatic scripts. Others procrastinate with tasks and time lines and do anything in their power to avoid writing that script for drama class. This becomes more obvious when scripting for solo performance work, where students are more autonomous.

typewriterRecently, I encountered this situation in my Year 12 Drama class. This is a highly motivated group of students who wish to excel in this subject, so commitment is never an issue. My students were developing the first section of script for their 7-minute solo performance examination. Initial research had been completed and in some cases, more was needed to write the first part of the script. I encouraged a few of my students to undertake what I labeled stream of consciousness at the time, but was most probably freewriting without any inhibitions or grammatical restrictions. For five minutes these students sat focused with their laptops writing anything that came into their heads. If possible, their written thoughts were to be on topic, preferably the specific area they needed to script at this point in time. The results were impressive.

Freewriting means what its name suggests: writing without constraints … the practice of freewriting eliminates … obstacles and allows a writer to generate creativity – Aims Community College

At the very least, this technique forced several students to write without fear of any kind. I made it clear no one was going to judge them on what they had written. I was confident when they read over their free writing effort there would be little pockets of gold that could be used in the first draft of their solo performance script, such as:

  • potential character dialogue
  • insights into character personality
  • a sense of time and place
  • knowledge of (imaginary) character/s in the scene
  • character movement in the space
  • creative ideas perhaps not achieved with normal scripting restrictions

Stream of Consciousness

While freewriting is often used interchangeably with the term stream of consciousness, it is probably best to think of these two as closely related literary devices. From the three university courses I have undertaken in my adult life, few things remain ingrained in my mind as much as my 3rd year Irish Literature class where the tutor forced me read James Joyce’s novel Ulysses – twice!

Merely a memory today, at the time this event was a living nightmare. I joined the Irish Literature unit in my undergraduate degree because I was attracted to a number of brilliant Irish playwrights – Sean O’Casey, J. M. Synge, W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, and Samuel Beckett to name a few.

To represent the full richness, speed, and subtlety of the mind at work, the writer incorporates snatches of incoherent thought, ungrammatical constructions, and free association of ideas, images, and words at the pre-speech level. – Encyclopaedia Britannica.

I was never a natural reader and always found it a struggle to read novels for enjoyment in my university days. However, throw me a play and I’d read it with great enthusiasm. Why? Because a play is the blueprint for a theatrical production and I loved all things drama and theatre, picturing in my head what the stage would look like as I read through the script. I recall the delight of reading O’Casey’s Playboy of the Western World, but more so the horror of struggling through Joyce’s 1,000-page, 265,000-word novel. To make things worse, my very knowledgeable tutor was a neighbour and family friend. There was no getting around this task.

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One of the things I did learn from reading Ulysses, however, was the literary device of stream of consciousness.

Stream of consciousness is a narrative device that attempts to give the written equivalent of the character’s thought processes, either in a loose interior monologue, or in connection to his or her actions. Stream-of-consciousness writing is usually regarded as a special form of interior monologue and is characterized by associative leaps in thought and lack of some or all punctuation – Wikipedia

So surely stream of consciousness techniques can be just as effective for our drama students, when scripting, as free writing can be? I recommend using stream of consciousness as Stage 2, and pure freewriting (above) as Stage 1. After attempting freewriting, the next phase of student creativity could be using stream of consciousness specifically for the purpose of investigating one or more characters’ inner thoughts at various stages of the script/plot. To know what the character is thinking at different moments will greatly assist a student to actually script the spoken words. This will be even more sophisticated if employing stream of consciousness to develop a disconnect between what a character thinks and says – for example when a character knowingly speaks words that contradict what he or she is really thinking.

Authors who use the technique of stream of consciousness do so with intentions to guide the character from one place to the next internally and not just let the character’s thoughts go haywire – Literary Devices

Another excellent reason for using stream of consciousness with student scripting in drama is direction. Even though, as with freewriting, stream of consciousness  appears random, it can be a useful method of directing the character as the plot progresses. What is the character thinking in this scene, as opposed to the previous one? How is the character affected by others in the scene? Are the characters internal thoughts affecting the emotional side of the character the student must explore in order to portray the role? I like to think of stream of consciousness as an unstructured road map for the internal side of a character, and students could easily use it for this purpose.

Summary

Stage 1 – Freewriting: unblock the student’s imagination and creativity to generate a multitude of new ideas for the script. Forget the grammar. Just write!

Stage 2 – Stream of Consciousness: slightly more structured (yet free) scripting with the intent on understanding and giving direction to a character’s internal thoughts and motivations.

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