A Shakespeare Framework

A coworker challenged me to participate in NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writer’s Month.  If you’re not familiar, this contest challenges writers to create a complete fifty thousand word novel in just thirty days. Technically November is past, but there’s no reason why you can’t attempt the challenge any month you like.

I’m not scared of word count. Most of the time you need me to cut words out.  What I can’t do is stream of consciousness for that long. I can’t just start writing and assume that a novel will plop out at the end.  I’m a computer programmer by trade, and you can’t just open up a text editor not knowing whether you’re going to end up with an ecommerce site or a mobile videogame.

What we do is start with a framework.  Just like a building has a floor, four walls and a roof, the same logic is true of software projects. A video game has backgrounds, sprites, controls, a scoreboard. An ecommerce site has navigation, a shopping cart, buy buttons.

So naturally before I’d attempt a novel I’d ask whether there’s a framework I can start with.  See where I’m going with this?  Whether it’s The Lion King, Forbidden Planet or West Side Story, there’s clear precedent for taking the minimal plot elements of a Shakespeare play and then rebuilding your own story. I immediately thought of doing something along the lines of The Tempest, although I’ll have to make it a point to stay out of Forbidden Planet territory.

What I was wondering, though, is whether we can make a framework out of all the plays. Everybody does Hamlet or King Lear or Romeo and Juliet. Could you use, say, Coriolanus as your starting point?  What would that look like?

Pick a play, and break it down to the minimal plot skeleton. Hamlet, Disney taught us, is any story where the uncle figure kills the king and the son has to take his rightful place on the throne. Romeo and Juliet has been reduced to “two groups of people don’t like each other, until one from each side falls in love.”

Pick a harder one. What’s the framework for A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

2 thoughts on “A Shakespeare Framework

  1. The reductionist Dream has to be two couples in an unsatisfactory love quadrangle. And I would absolutely read/watch/listen to that in just about any twist.

    And did you take your pal up on the Nanowrimo challenge? The Shakespearean structure idea is brilliant, I’d love to hear how it went!

    1. But do you think two couples in an unsatisfactory love quadrangle would be enough for someone to say “Hey, it’s Midsummer Night’s Dream with lions!” Does there have to be an element of magic, or at least mistaken identity?

      Here’s an idea — do Dream without Hermia/Helena/Lysander/Demetrius at all. The story of a powerful man who is arguing with his wife, who isn’t getting his way and leads her into an embarrassing / compromising situation with someone unexpected so he can get what he wants.

      Man, Oberon kind of sounds like an ass when you spin it like that.

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