Day 7 – Playing With Character with Playwright Jen Silverman

Today’s guest prompt comes from Jen Silverman.

Jen Silverman is a New York–based writer and playwright, a two-time MacDowell Fellow, and the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts grant and the Yale Drama Series prize. She was awarded the 2016–17 Playwrights of New York fellowship at The Lark and is a member of New Dramatists. She completed a BA in comparative literature at Brown University and an MFA in playwriting at the Iowa Playwrights Workshop, and was a fellow at the Playwrights Program at Juilliard.

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The Prompt

My approach to story-telling has always been character-driven. I’m fascinated by characters who are driven by overwhelming desires, who risk big, who long to transform.

Much of my professional writing has been for the theatre, as a playwright, and so when I teach writing, I focused on unlocking new understandings of characters, and accessing their individual voices.

This prompt is about exploring the “engine” of your main character. What drives them? Who are they when the stakes are high and their back is to the wall? Pick one of the following 4 scenarios and explore: how would they deal with this situation?

  1. Backed into a corner, your character tells a lie to protect him/her self.
  2. Your character has been plotting blood-chilling revenge on someone. Now both are sitting down to dinner together.
  3. Your character goes to a psychic, who tells them something frightening that changes how they see their future.
  4. Your character is obsessed with something. They think they will do anything to obtain it. The person they love most in the world stands in their way.

Tips

  • Ask yourself about your protagonist’s initial instincts? Are they a runner? A fighter? A lover? Fearful or forward? Visceral or heady?
  • The story you’re working on doesn’t have to contain stakes this high, for this prompt to be useful. Maybe you’re writing a quiet naturalistic story about a relationship dissolving.
  • The work you did to unearth your protagonist’s emotional range can still come into play, with the dial turned down to 5 instead of up to 10.

For more advice for burgeoning short story writers, Download Signature’s Compact Guide to Writing Short Stories!

11 thoughts on “Day 7 – Playing With Character with Playwright Jen Silverman”

  1. I chose the revenge plot! I really enjoyed uncovering my MC’s layers of motivation. The story started out murderous, but became rather tender by the end. Really fun prompt!

    1. Elizabeth Twist, mine was the opposite! These prompts were all fun and I had trouble deciding which to use.

      1. ME TOO Kathy! I waffled quite a lot while choosing my prompt. I would love to read your increasingly murderous story! Honestly I thought that’s how mine would go.

  2. I chose the first situation. A college senior deciding whether or not to cheat on her final exam, with plenty of personal problems she uses to rationalize her decision. By the end of it I was stressing for her! Enjoyable prompts, I might end up using some of the other ones later.

  3. I chose the psychic prompt because it felt fun. I put off getting started, trying to plan it out. Then I just put my timer on and dug in. I love finding the end of a story! I sleep better at night. Lol

  4. I made a new character today: a struggling actress who is about to be evicted because she is behind on rent and other bills. She really needs the part she is auditioning for, but how far will she go to make sure her competition doesn’t get the part instead?

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