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How To Find Inspiration To Write A Hit Show

Writing a musical. writing a play, theatre nerds

Have you ever practiced your Tony Award acceptance speech in your free time? Do you dream of becoming the next Shakespeare, Rodgers, Hammerstein, Sondheim, Lloyd Webber or Miranda but have no idea where to start?

Deciding the plot, setting and characters can be just as hard as writing the show itself. It’s easy to get frustrated and quit before you even start. Self-doubt and fear are the biggest dream killers.

The truth is, you might not create a blockbuster hit, but you can’t win if you never throw your hat into the ring. So, why not take a shot?

To help you get started, here are some ways to inspire your writing:

1. Pay Attention

There are stories everywhere. Instead of putting in your headphones and burying your head in your phone, try observing the world around you. This is especially useful on public transportation. Listen to what people are saying and observe the potential characters near you.

Tip: Carry a notepad or note application on your phone, you never know when something you see will inspire an idea. When inspiration does come, you want to be ready!

2. Read the News

Real life is full of great ideas. So, read the news, and read it widely. Check out all of the different sections available in the publication. Something might spark your interest!

Tip: No time for reading? A wise professor once told me that a great writing exercise when inspiration has disappeared is to go through the newspaper, select a headline without reading the article and write a creative story based on that headline.

3. Write What You Know

It can be daunting to take on an unknown subject for your first kick at the can. So, pick a topic you already know a lot about, or write about yourself. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first full-length musical, “In the Heights,” was based the New York City neighborhood he grew up in. His character of Abuela Claudia was inspired by a surrogate grandmother from his childhood summers spent in Puerto Rico. Miranda was able to tap into his experiences and use them to generate a Tony Award-winning score and musical.

Tip: Jot down experiences that have impacted you, then begin to outline each one to see how much of a complete story is there.

4. Take A Break

It’s amazing how busy we can be without every taking time to relax and restore our body, soul, & mind. Even pausing work for a 10-15 minute walk can stimulate your brain in ways you never imagined. Many creatives say their best ideas come away from the office. One big example of this is Hamilton’s creator/writer Lin-Manuel Miranda. His idea for “Hamilton: An American Musical” came to him while vacationing in Mexico.

It’s no accident that the best idea I’ve ever had in my life — perhaps maybe the best one I’ll ever have in my life — came to me on vacation

Lin-Manuel Miranda

5. One Plus One

Find two ideas and put them together to make an original idea. Sure, zombies have been done. And doctors working to fight off a zombie epidemic have been done. But say that zombie was a doctor working to fight off the zombie epidemic. Suddenly, you have a new and interesting idea, all because you put two of them together.

6. History Repeats Itself

You don’t have to look much further than a history textbook to find great stories. Past events are the basis for at least a dozen movies that come out every year, and even hit musicals such as “Hamilton.” So, don’t snooze in your history class. Take a step into the past — you never know what you might find.

Example? A newsboy strike in 1899 was the basis for the Broadway hit “Newsies”

7. Ask, “What If?”

This simple question could turn an ordinary idea or situation into something extraordinary. It’s a great excuse for the imagination. This is even a useful way to put a twist on an already written idea. The musical “Wicked” is the perfect “what-if.” What if the Wicked Witch of the West wasn’t bad? What if Dorothy was the villain? What if the roles were reversed? These questions took an old idea and made it fresh, leading to a bestselling book and an iconic musical.

8. A Picture’s Worth 50,000 words

Similar to the headline idea, find a photo without any captions or explanations and write the creative story of that photo. Magazines, newspapers, Pinterest and Tumblr are all helpful places to look for pictures to get your creative juices flowing.

9. Seek Collaboration

Sure, you can be a lone wolf out there penning your masterpiece, but good things come in pairs. In many cases, two brains is better than one. A high percentage of Broadway shows, movies, and TV series have multiple writers/collaborators. Though the main ideas come from you, creative partners can help bring new perspective and talents to the project. After all, what was Rodgers without Hammerstein?

How to find collaborators?

  • Join a meetup group on a site like Meetup.com
  • Join a Facebook group for playwright’s like This One
  • Attend a playwright’s workshop in your city

How do you find inspiration for show writing? Let us know in the comments below…

Written by Katelynn Johnston

Katelynn is a writer and elementary arts teacher from Toronto. From acting to choreographing to directing, she has been fortunate enough to take part in a variety of shows.

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