- Writing becomes resonant when it has something to say. The trick lies in understanding and accepting that there are no new ideas for an artist to state, only new ways to present them. If you can sum up your piece in a thematic message—pessimism only breeds negativity, or celebrity culture is disconnected from reality, for example—then your chances of writing something that's both more personal and more powerful increase. Defining a theme and putting the idea into words forces the author to articulate the purpose of the story, and that's a good thing. How many times have you read a story or watched a play and found your attention wandering because the scene devolved into rudderless conversation? Chances are the writer lost his or her theme. If you're not saying something (that's almost assuredly already been said) about the human condition, then I'm not sure why as an audience member I'm giving up time to go on the journey. A clear theme will also strengthen both character actions and goals.
- Understand plot structure as it is taught, but don't let it hamstring you if you're trying out a stylistic idea or non-linear approach. Experiment when you want to rather than writing in a traditional form, provided you can define what the new approach accomplishes. The adage of knowing the rule you're breaking before you break it is a good one; if you can't explain why you are choosing a particular atypical style, then you need to think carefully before using it. If you can justify why using backwards chronology enhances the breakup story you are writing (and define what it adds to your piece), then definitely keep going. If you have no better reason than "It looks cool," then you might want to revisit what you're trying to say.
- Brevity. Repeated beats in my stage writing are a big weakness of mine. Go through and see if people are arguing the same thing and merely saying it with different words. If they are, cut it. While you're looking for brevity, also track escalation of conflict. If it feels like just a back-and-forth argument, you need to think about one character breaking that cycle by introducing a new tactic: have her stab the other person with a fork or have a nervous breakdown or get deadly quiet and say, "Okay, but you know what I'll do to Sandy." Especially if Sandy hasn't been brought up or used as a tactic before; it's a safe bet to say that this will make the audience perk up. Why? You're no longer repeating a familiar beat. Suddenly you're in new, interesting territory.
- Work from your landing point (aka: embrace the outline). To me, it's the ending and final image that informs what the play or story is about. That should be both common-sense and universal, but for many writers, we lose sight of the power of conclusion. I spend a lot of time figuring out where I want the protagonist to end up. Yes, I'm all for having the characters speak and act as one writes, and although I use an outline, it's an open one with enough room for characters to chart their own way. But if I know where I want to go, it helps me define what I want to say (the thematic message, discussed earlier). I've witnessed some colleagues write several drafts of a story, completely changing structure and plot with each multi-page new pass. Foreknowledge means you're not as apt to lose time going blindly down a creative alley that isn't the right one if you know the neighborhood where you ultimately want to wind up. For that reason, I am very much a pro-outline writer. My characters still surprise me, and I still let them speak and act independently. But with an outline, they're also in service of what I feel I really want to say through their journey. And if that theme changes, then both characters and writer can discover it together.
Those are some of my thoughts gained from personal experience. Agree? Disagree? Feel free to comment.