WbyW Reflections: First Steps of Playwriting with John Rwothomack

Sunday 13 February 2022, Online

Taking the first half of our Sheffield's B2B, John Rwothomack led us through a varied workshop on playwriting, sharing insights from his most recent play, Far Gone.

Why do we tell stories?

John began with asking this simple question that dictates so much of his work and our relationship with storytelling.

From historical archiving and fairytales to the everyday anecdotes we tell ourselves, we use stories to understand the world. They offer a vehicle to express ourselves, to understand times gone by, to entertain and provoke emotion. By exploring this question, John highlighted how the function of stories can hugely dictate their content, such as plot, characters, the script and so on.

Following from this, John shared his process on developing ideas as a playwright and the immense research that's required to create a story. Aside from fuelling inspiration, research enables the writer to take full responsibility, with a world of historical records, figures and interpretations.

There's also a number of questions that John asks himself in preparation:

  • Why am I doing this?

  • Who is my audience?

  • What do I want to achieve?

  • What's the biggest challenge?

  • What is my greatest fear?

  • How do I see myself?

John then shared how he then asks the same questions to all characters, thereby transforming them from mere concepts to three-dimensional beings. Of course, these characters must live in a world too, with a history, various locations, climates and political systems. What language do they speak and with what accent? All such questions must be answered and revisited in this preparation process.

Beginnings, Middles and Ends: Structuring a Play

John then took us through the fundamental aspects of rendering a plot, with story curves. Should we begin with the climax or gently introduce the characters? 'Where and when does the inciting incident happen, and when does the dust settle'? John asked. Throughout this process, we explored how re-arranging traditional narrative arcs can often create a story that's far more intriguing for its audience, with unanswered questions and suspense until the very end.

Expressing the Key Elements

In this workshop's final phase, we read through a short extract of Paul Sirett's Bad Blood Blues. We began by reading through a conversation between Patrice and Clare, the play's two main protagonists. Gradually, we then explored the key words of the script, which the other character was responding to i.e. family, sister, famous and music.

Extract from Paul Sirett's Bad Blood Blues (2009)

In essence, John demonstrated how the best playwriting is often that which conveys meaning in little words, giving metaphors and building characters in just a few short lines. It was a brilliant way to conclude the workshop, providing so many ideas for understanding plays, creating scripts and building characters. Thank you, John and to everyone who attended!

By Jen McNeill-Moss (Word by Word member)


There are 3 final workshops to go in the Word By Word Presents series, led by a range of incredible professional writers: Inua Ellams, Lola Olufemi and Nikesh Shukla.

No prior experience necessary. We are particularly welcoming people of colour, LGBTQ+ folk and other marginalised voices. All tickets can be bought on our Eventbrite, on a pay as you feel basis.

John Rwothomack's play, Far Gone is also on tour, from February - April 2022.

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