Interview with playwright Dana Yeaton, whose new play, My Ohio, opens at FlynnSpace with the Vermont Stage Company on 4/21.

This week's Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Dana Yeaton, who uses prompts and exercises when he teaches. He recommended a joint prompt, requiring two people. Each person will need a piece of paper and something to write with. You'll be writing two dialogues between what we'll call character A and character B. The partners are told (or together create) the first line for character "A." It might be, for example, "I wouldn't do that if I were you." Each person writes that line and then writes character B's response to that line. You then switch papers, and write character A's response to the most recent response written by your partner. Switch papers again, respond, and keep going. As the exercise unfolds, you'll create two dialogues, all from that initial line. Dana says that what's really fun in this activity is that each person has to respond.

There should be no talking. No planning, no plotting. Each time you switch pages, you'll find yourself once more in a new situation. What would be an interesting next step? What would drive this story? Watch out for impulses that take away from or sabotage the story. You don't want the first response to the line, "I wouldn't do that if I were you," to be, "What?" And if someone writes, "Here, then, you take the gun," the response shouldn't be, "That's not a gun, that's a pickle."

Within 6-7 minutes, you'll have co-written two dialogues. As Dana explains, this exercise is pretty open-ended, it's quick, and it produces two outcomes.

Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another.

Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several South Burlington High School students.

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  • Anna Paulson

    In trying this with my writing pen pal, we started off great but ended up stuck in something akin to a correspondence chess game whereby one person makes a move with a piece that the other insists was lost some time back. The ensuing script was less and less intelligible but no less amusing. However, I think the part of the prompt that suggests paper and pen and that the partners be in the same location is integral to success.

    I will try this with my class this fall.

    thanks anna

    May 5, 2010 at 4:58 pm
  • writethebook

    I’m interested to learn that it wouldn’t work “long distance.” Makes sense, though. Up close and personal, you’d probably need to stick more closely to the agreed-upon rules. Hoping it serves you well in your class. Thanks for your comment, Anna.

    - Shelagh

    May 5, 2010 at 5:18 pm