Tag Archives: act two


By Kitty Felde

I’ve always hated Aristotle.

He said there were only two parts to a good drama – the rising action leading to the climax, and the denouement, or the unraveling that follows. It sounds so simple. But my brain doesn’t work that way.

I remember when I first started out as a reporter. It was so hard for me to write with the denouement in the lede. Why the heck would you put your best stuff at the top? I wanted to tell a story the way you tell a story – give your audience a setting, introduce them to the characters, make things worse for them, and worse again, and solve the problem. But news rarely conforms to that clean format.

And I find that when I write plays, those stories rarely conform either.

I wonder if it’s because I don’t like torturing my characters. I like them too much to give them grief, let alone trouble after trouble. I enjoy spending time with them. I don’t want to kill them off.

Which leads me to my Act Two problem.

I’m still stuck in Act Two of my romantic comedy. Perhaps I should look at my favorite films to see how those writers solved this part of the story. You know, the part where both parties admit to themselves that they are in fact attracted to each other. I know logically that there needs to be some sort of complication, an obstacle that gets in their way. Now, make it worse.

I know, I know, Mr. Aristotle. I need some of that rising action leading to a climax. I just wish I knew what it was.

So I appeal to you, my fellow writers. What secrets do you have to share about digging yourself out of Act Two?

I await your wisdom.

Act Two, Scene Four

Kitty Felde – January 19, 2011

One other thought about writing this ‘trick myself into writing something’ play.  I’ve decided to try some of the techniques I admire in other plays but never employ in my own. 

I rail against ‘kitchen sink dramas’ all the time and crave a real theatrical experience.  But how often do I write them myself?  Not often enough.

Since this children’s play I’m writing “doesn’t really matter” (that’s what I keep telling myself to stop putting pressure on myself to make it FABULOUS) I can experiment, get outside my comfort zone. 

So here are my rules:

Simplify.  I’m always writing large cast pieces with complicated plots.  For this piece, I’ve decided to simplify the play at its core: it’s the story of a relationship between a girl and her grandmother.  All other characters come and go. 

Well, that was the first thought.  Now a best friend has cropped up for the girl and he’s threatening to become a more fully realized character.  But okay.  Everybody ELSE comes and goes.

Dare to offend.  I’m fairly polite and probably overly politically correct in my personal and professional life.  Why be that way onstage?  I’m going to RISK offending people.  Writing characters that are not from my background or life experience and bring troublesome images on stage.  Yes, in a children’s play.  It will go over the heads of the kids and drive the parents crazy.  Which is the point.

Make stage magic.  My Skype playwriting pal Ellen Struve described a very bad production of “A Christmas Carol” that was saved by one thing: it snowed – not just onstage, but also IN the audience.  Magic happened somewhere in that theatre.  That’s what I want to try onstage.  Vegetables dance.  Pictures talk.  We’ll see how far I can pull this off.  But just giving yourself permission to try things is fun. 

No judgments until you get to the end of the first draft.  I’m making notes about this or that (didn’t I already write a similar scene?  Isn’t this scene inappropriate for the age range of the audience?), but I’m not trying to fix anything.  Yet.  The goal is to get to the end. 

 Have some fun.  So far, so good.

Act Two, Scene Three

Kitty Felde – January 18, 2011

I keep coming up with ways to trick myself into writing.

I have an act two problem with a play I’ve been struggling with for several years.  It’s the one about which my husband keeps saying, “why don’t you just let it go?”  But you know how it is.  It’s like the troubled kid you know you can see through the bad times so he’ll become an upstanding citizen when he’s done growing up.  So I know I’m committed to that play. 

But I’ve been stuck for months trying to finish act two.  And not writing a thing.

So I’ve decided to trick myself.

The very first play I ever wrote was a melodrama, “Shanghai Heart.”  As an actor, I had played a season in lovely Oceano, California with The Great American Melodrama and Vaudeville Theatre, playing 12 year old ingénues (I had just graduated college!)  Some of the plays were classics, some newer knock offs. 

Melodramas rarely get the kind of serious dramaturg attention that other genres get.  Even musical comedy is taken more seriously.  So when the urge came for me to write my first play, I chose a melodrama.  I knew the style.  But more importantly, I told myself, if the play stunk, no one would know.  It was a melodrama, for heaven’s sake. 

This kind of ploy worked pretty well when I was freelancing as a journalist for several years.  The days that my story ideas were rejected, I told myself I wasn’t a journalist, I was really a playwright.  When my plays came back in that sad, beaten up envelope, I told myself I wasn’t really a playwright, I was a journalist.  Schizophrenic, but it worked for me.

Of course, in my heart of hearts, I was going to write the BEST melodrama on planet earth.  And with a cast of ten (TEN!  What was I thinking?) I had a lot of characters to create and plots to keep straight.  But in the end, my tale of mistaken identity and love on San Francisco’s Barbary Coast was a hit.

The Los Angeles Times said, “Felde knows the melodrama form and has created an admirably intricate plot involving lost children, double amnesia, filched land deeds, a displaced Mountie, vamps, chorines, an evil foreigner, revenge and love triumphant.”

 Drama-Logue raved, “clever, talented and resourceful Kitty Felde…we should be hearing more from this versatile young lady.”

 I went on to write ten other plays. 

 And then got stuck in act two hell.

 So back to my solution. 

 I decided to choose another genre that’s gotten short shrift: plays for young audiences. 

 I’m a Helen Hayes judge here in Washington (kind of like the Ovations or LA Drama Critics Circle awards) and because I’m on the New Plays committee, I see a lot of new kids shows.  And unfortunately, a lot of them are bad.  (I know because the kids I’ve borrowed as my theatre companions tell me that on the drive home.)

 So I decided to write a kids show, using the same rationale I used to write that very first play: if it was bad, who would know?

 Now, before anyone gets all hot and heavy, I know kids’ theatre should be the BEST we have to offer.  Otherwise, why would kids ever pay the big bucks to attend theatre as adults?  And I have seen some WONDERFUL theatre designed for kids that’s MUCH better than the dreck offered to adults.  In my heart of hearts, that’s the play I want to write.  But I won’t admit it to myself.  Not just yet.


Act Two Hell, Part 2

I hate act two.

Act one is like planning a party, imagining the guests you’ll invite, the food, the decorations, your ensemble you’ll wear. Act two is picking up dirty napkins and loading the dishwasher. It’s no fun.

But I’ve promised my laundry list of tricks to survive act two hell.

1 – Step back. Ask yourself why the heck did you want to write this play in the first place? What did you want to say? Is that what you wrote in the first act? No? Then what did your act one actually say? Is that enough for you to finish? Or would you just as soon abandon it like the last three plays…

2 – Stop. Act two is the place all the seeds you planted in act one are supposed to pay off. The devil whispers that you’ve planted duds and you should pull them out and start over. Do not listen to this voice.

Go back and read act one. Note the gifts you’ve given yourself – the possibilities for payoff in act two, the unexplored qualities of character that sneak out in dialogue, all the clues you left behind for you to find.

3 – Next, ask yourself what you DO know about act two. Write those things down. It’s likely that you know one scene that needs to go in act two. Write that scene.

4 – Give yourself permission to write a really bad scene. The more lousy, the better. Of course, what happens is usually there’s something wonderful buried in that muck. And you can dig it out tomorrow and use it to start that new scene.

5 – Don’t throw anything out. Make a separate file for it. Or stick it at the end of your script. You’ll probably never need it or use it. But it’s nice to know it’s there. A writer’s security blanket.

And one last word of inspiration:

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the
unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”

Hans Hofmann (1880-1966)
Abstract expressionist painter


Act Two Hell

I am in act two hell.

You start out with such fire and confidence and vigor. Your characters come alive. They hold your hand and lead you through all the set up scenes, sprinkling potential conflicts like breadcrumbs along the way. The end of act one comes naturally. You feel so good about the piece, you want to schedule a reading, cast your actors, think about where you want it to premiere.

And then it’s time to finish the darned thing.

Act two inspiration is a bit slower. Somehow, the tension seems a little deflated. Like the audience had one glass of wine too many during the intermission. Wake up, playwright! You meander around, hoping for inspiration. And wake up in a cold sweat, convinced that Act one is totally boring, uninspired, stupid. You have the urge to completely tear it apart. Fix it. Tinker with everything.

This is the devil whispering in your ear.

Or, as my Skype writing buddy in Omaha puts it, “Why do plays need second acts anyway? Lazy audience. Why can’t they just work it out themselves?” And at this point in the writing process, you tell yourself, they’ll probably do a helluva lot better than you.

How to escape these many circles of hell? I’ll share my laundry list of tricks tomorrow.