AUDREY CEFALY'S PLAYWRIGHT VOCABULARY

Fellow playwrights, these are my words for things. Many of them are maybe a little unorthodox, words not typically used in this fashion, but ones that work for me. The idea is to sort of look beyond what's taught in textbooks and give names to techniques that are often undocumented, overlooked and undervalued.  In any event, they work for me, maybe they'll work for you too.  

Please share with your teachers, students, writing groups, and colleagues!
 

And now... in no particular order...

 

PILE-UP
(a term often used in Meisner training)

that thing that happens right before the Explosion

 

EXPLOSION
that thing most writers call the "Climax"

 

LAYERING

that thing when you revisit a scene and go deeper

 

TORQUE
that thing where you add friction to a scene so it turns harder and stronger

 

YELP
a cry of pain; a very quick sharp burst of a line uttered by a character in response to agonizing emotional pain or torment

 

GOLD
that thing or moment in a script that is so perfect, so right, so genuinely spot-on that, in its absence, the world would stop spinning

 

LAVA LAMPING
that thing where you devise a little something interesting to bubble up into a scene every now and then, and maybe it's never fully explained but delightful nonetheless because not everything needs an explanation; it can just be lava or whatever you want it to be

 

SHADOW BOXING
that thing where characters start taking jabs at each other and sometimes kinda passive-aggressively beating each other up before the actual fight

 

CARD TIPPING
that thing when a character intentionally exposes himself

 

TICK TICK BOOM
(a.k.a "Ratcheting")
this is when you go back through a high-pitched scene and carefully place words or actions that palpably lurch the tension higher or tighter in a given moment, and whatever it is you added should be stealth but clockable by anyone within a three-mile radius

CLOCKING

it's that moment (a skipped heartbeat kind of moment) when a character notices, with undeniable clarity, something of great significance; a solid radar strike...

LINE TOSS
that line you write for a character to be delivered breezily as they pass through the scene and to them it means nothing but to the other character it is total devastation

 

CLOAKING
that thing where you take awkward exposition and break it up in such a way that it doesn't feel like someone just listing facts -- either by turning a sentence into a question, by dividing up the lines, by stylizing in a way that sounds more casual, etc.

 

PEPPERING
that thing when you realize something about a character and you gotta go back through the script and put little spots of that in other places

 

THREADING
(a.k.a. "Weaving")
that thing where you recognize a new layer in a character or a story and you go back looking for places to pull it through

 

TENSIONING
that thing where you prune and remove all the noise and fluffery so the scene gains electricity

 

DISTILLATION
the collective effort that is finding the absolute essentials of a script so that it gets stronger and more meaningful

EASY MONEY
that thing where you (sometimes anachronistically) co-opt a line or a joke from pop culture or current events because you know it will get a laugh

 

BLUE'S CLUES
that thing you put in the stage directions for an actor or a director so that even the dumbest turnip will get it

 

SPIT-BALLING
that thing where you make shit up

 

SPAGHETTI-WALLING
that thing you do when a scene is approaching al dente and you throw it at the wall to see if it sticks; it's also that thing when you just want to play or try something, because why not

 

REPURPOSING
that thing when you cut something you love for the sake of the scene but find a way to use it elsewhere in different context

 

TEXTURIZING
that thing when you take a scene that is thin and flimsy, but otherwise a solid choice, and just mess it up a little

 

DECLUTTERING
that thing where you get rid of all the things you aren't absolutely in love with

 

TENNIS
that thing where you turn a monologue into a back-and-forth with another character

 

WEAPONIZING
that thing where you turn one character's words or actions against them later in the play (this is pure evil, and it works best in the Fight Scene because people don't think about their words when they are in the heat of battle)

 

FIGHT SCENE
another word for "Pile-Up" but can also occur after the Explosion; either way, this is that thing where we hear the raw truth of the characters and usually where we dead-center on the crux of the matter

 

PULLING TAFFY
that thing where you draw something out so it takes a little longer or adds tension or mystery

 

LIFTING
that thing you do when a scene has gotten heavy or needs some humor, so you find a way to give the audience a break

 

FOCUSING
that thing when you rework a line or a section so that it draws more attention or gains clarity

 

MUTING
that thing where you blunt the force of a moment or a scene

 

DENATURING
a not always intentional scenario where a character is somehow stripped of his/her/their original makeup (e.g., core behaviors, objectives, values)

FALSE SAVINGS
that thing where you over-engineer a fix that adds little or zero value to the overall

 

DEFRAGMENTING
that thing where you examine a scene for flow and energy and remove all the dirt and shit that is getting in the way so it gets tighter and cleaner

 

REFACTORING
that thing where you have a revelation about something that kinda changes the ending of a scene or a story and you go back through and make adjustments so it fits with the new ending, or calibrate the foreshadowing and other clues so that the audience has the right amount of hints or mystery at any given moment

 

REIMAGINING
that thing where you have an idea for something and you decide to keep the gist of a scene but rewrite it in a whole new light or context or flavor

 

EASY WRITING
that thing when the words come so fast you don't trust them because good writing can't possibly be that easy

 

BAD WRITING
that thing you say when someone wants to know what's wrong with a line and you come clean about it.

 

SHITTY WRITING
a few levels down from bad writing

 

ANOTHER STORY
that section of a script you know darn well does not belong here

 

POWER-UP
that thing you give a character so they can do something hard

 

HEALTH
that thing you give a character who has been emotionally or physically wounded by another character but still needs to stay alive long enough to come back and finish the scene

 

CHARITABLE GIVING
that thing where you donate a character's lines to another character, either out of guilt because they don't have enough lines or because it's just a nice and relatively painless thing to do

 

EASTER EGGING
that thing when you steal a line from another one of your stories and wait around to see how many people notice

 

EASTER EGGNOG
same as Easter Egging except this is done quite intentionally to show continuity regarding the eternal questions that are the basis of all your writings

 

CORE
(a.k.a. "Core Writing")
a moment or section of the script that contains a high-ranking central question or narrative moment and therefore has seniority and privilege

 

FLUFF
the opposite of Core

 

DOG LEGGING
(a form of Tensioning)
that thing where a character asks a question and instead of getting a direct response, the other character either plays dumb or obtuse or whatever and delays the answer until another part of the conversation

 

DEMOTING
that thing where you devalue a bit of text so it's still useful but doesn't draw as much attention

 

FRUIT FLYING
that thing where you create a recurring nuisance for a character

 

SHEET CAKING
that thing when a character is doing something hilariously self-destructive, like maybe eating a whole sheet cake, because it's easier than dealing with actual feelings

Want to add to this list? Send me a message

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Learn more about Audrey Cefaly...

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