'Elevator' Plays

THE PLAYWRITING SEMINARS > STRUCTURE > SHAPE > DIAGRAM > INCITING > PLOTS > SUSPENSE PLOT > ELEVATOR

Order 'I'm an emotional writer. I write a play because I do not want to stay where I am. . . . It's an uncomfortable place and therefore very powerful.'

-- John Patrick Shanley






Mark Medoff's WHEN YOU COMIN' BACK RED RYDER is an Elevator Play.

Order John Huston's
moody KEY LARGO
is a classic
Elevator Film.

[And Humphrey Bogart
makes a great
elevator operator.]




You can even have Elevator Novels. So where's the beef here? That's the point. There isn't much and you don't need much.

Here's how the Elevator principle works . . .

Cram a large group of characters -- few [or none] of whom know each other -- in an Elevator. A crowd of about 5 to 10 is good with a mix of ages, genders, social status, and personal problems. Close the doors and stick it between floors. And then one of the characters turns out to be a lunatic. If nothing happens, turn off the vent fan.

So it's a fake play in a way, but sometimes -- as with RED RYDER [the elevator's a guy with a gun] and KEY LARGO [the elevator's a hurricane and a guy with a gun] -- these work like a charm.

The real advantage of this technique is you don't have to worry much about a Suspense Plot. That's the Elevator. The Point of Attack's when they all get in. The Inciting Incident comes when it sticks between floors. The Conflict is driven by the aggressive Lunatic picking on everybody. The Climax hits when the Lunatic loses it, and the Resolution is of course when the Elevator . . .

You can have an Elevator Play set practically anywhere that's isolated: a spaceship, a cave, a submarine, a rural diner, a life boat, an airplane. Even somebody's living room or a bank under siege will do. As long as the characters can't -- or think they can't -- leave. And at least one of them -- if not a raving lunatic -- is at least borderline.

Don't shy away from the form. It's a great cure for Writer's Block, since most of the hard work's instantly done for you by picking the 'Elevator' and those oddballs you put inside it. And if you're really creative with its limitations, you can squeeze a great play out of the genre. No lie.

It's a bit of a stretch with one of these, but they all have a fair amount of the basic concept . . .


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