But do they care?

A lot can happen in ten minutes or less:

A monster attack

A car crash

A terminal diagnosis

The end of the world

The severance (or start) of an intimate relationship

And yet I’ve wondered if I expect too much, as a writer and as an audience member, of the increasingly ubiquitous ten-minute play, because I tend to like it ALL to happen (not necessarily the above, but events with comparable import). In earnest — rather than overt absurdity. In the same play. In ten minutes or less.

Tall order, but why not? What are the obstacles, but clear conflict, oppressive time constraints (or the proverbial ticking time bomb), and the je ne sais quoi required in order to make audiences care about the people and action at work in a compressed and short period of time.

OR is it really je ne sais quoi? Can it be mechanized, the art of making people care?

Well, since the world of politics is top of mind these days and is entirely about mechanics, for ghits and shiggles, I thought I’d compare some strategies for delivering a short stump speech designed to make people care with those that might be used effectively in the construction of an event-packed ten-minute play.

Did a bit of reading, Martha Nussbaum, Chip and Dan Heath, etc., etc. Some tactics that came up recurringly:

  • Highlight current problem(s) with emphasis, clarity and precision: check
  • Provide vivid details whenever possible: makes things seem real, credible; sure
  • Lean more on emotion over facts: in the case of the play, less exposition, more dialogue that reveals character truths; makes characters sympathetic
  • Reference the “challenge plot” when telling a story: make stakes high, obstacles ever daunting, with protagonist overcoming them in the end; eh, sure
  • Reference Associations/Use a celebrity or known figure: using something people already care about; I’ve done this (presented actual public figure as lead character), have seen it done; ultimately, it largely depends on the figure – my references tend to be obscure, but in mainstream cases, some recognition, for better or worse, is likely to produce some “care” results
  • Give audience ownership of what they’re hearing: can be endeavored in many ways, some interactive/immersive; interesting to chew on
  • Use specific names: (“I was talking with Frank Anderson of Davenport, Iowa, recently, who lost his farm . . .” comes to mind); personalizes things, makes whole presentation familiar

Alas, as the adage is “we’re all so different,” and it’s true, I suppose, that many of us are, what makes one person care may differ largely from that which keeps the person in the seat next to her invested.

That said, perhaps we’d be stronger politicians, we ten-minute playwrights, focusing a bit on a few of these as we go about our literary way.

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