Music & Entertainment

Writing Case Study: Meteor Shower

Steve Martin

Lesson time 11:11 min

Steve uses his play, Meteor Shower, as a teaching tool to explain efficient writing, smart exposition, and practical character development.

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Preview

I thought maybe we'd take a look at a play I've written, a recent play, which I'm actually quite proud of. And it's been produced. So it's pretty well together. And maybe I can explain some of the reasons that certain things happen. And one of the things that I'm become very aware of is exposition and how to lay it in. My cliche is in a movie, when two guys are walking down the street, and one of them says, Joe, you're my brother. What about when, blah blah? Why would you ever say that to your brother? Your brother knows who he is. But it's just kind of clunky exposition. And there's so many ways to do it. Just say, what did dad say? It's such a simpler thing. And it's so much better when this information is gathered, rather than told. So I got my little computer. Now, this play I've written-- I'll try to make this as brief as possible. It's called Meteor Shower. And it's a comedy. And that's-- its intent is to be a comedy and to make people laugh. That's its purpose. And I'll just set the situation. It's a couple in their 40s, early 40s, mid 40s. They live in Ojai, California, which is out in the desert. And they've invited a couple over that they don't know that well to watch a meteor shower in the summer. And then, chaos ensues. So how do you tell that? And I'll just-- first, I wanted to establish the couple. Their names are Corky and Norm. And she's on stage alone. She sees him. He comes in. He's half-dressed. He goes, Norm, they're here in 15 minutes. Now, already the audience knows, oh, someone's coming over, without doing anything. They're here in 15 minutes. I know. I know. And he says, there's a Jeopardy question I'm trying to find the answer to. And he says, it's on the tip of my tongue, on the tip of my tongue. Now, I'll explain what the joke is in a minute, but this is just a little appetizer. It's not really relevant. But it talks-- it ultimately has a point. He says, it's on the tip of my tongue. It's a book title. It's a book title. It's something like Death to the Cuckoo. What is it? Like Death to the Cuckoo. And the wife goes, oh, To Kill a Mockingbird. And what they've done now is establish this bond, that they can finish each other's sentences, they understand each other, by doing a joke. So-- and he says, oh, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Yet another reason to be married. So now we know this is going to be kind of about marriage. And yet we haven't really said anything, anything direct about it. And he says, oh. She says, you had a brain freeze. He says, oh, yeah. I repressed it. And when I repress something, I push it way down and kick dirt over it. It's not coming back. And then, she says, if you don't deal with your subconscious, it will deal with you. Now, that's exactly w...


A comedian walks into a classroom...

One of Steve’s first gigs was at the drive-in movies. When the audience liked a joke, they honked. In this comedy class, Steve shares insights from performing for cars and humans over a 50-year career spanning sold-out arenas and blockbuster films. Learn how to find your voice, gather material, develop an act, and take your comedy writing to the next level.



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Comments

Shawn T.

Steve Martin is a good teacher. I wish he would do a video on teaching. It would be good if teachers could be funnier like him.

CV

I think the feeling of “too much” may stem from the overuse of the work “remember.” It tends to drag it out. HOWEVER, I love the premise so much that all the bits are funny but if you’re looking to edit, I would find a different way to say “do you remember...” Great work!

ALICIA S.

Writing a script... Reading a script... It is much different than watching the final production. I think, it’s execution of vision. Like everybody has their own point of view for presentation because of memories, personal moments and work on the role. Thanks for the lesson.

Michael O.

I don't hear or see much about the seminal influence of theatre, and here it was well laid before us. Thank you, Steve.

Joe C.

The kind of feedback discussed in this lesson is often hard to come by. I took up this class to improve the humor in my writing. Unfortunately standup, movies, plays have live responses that are not available when you are writing a book. I have had the good fortune to read some of my stuff to small audiences. It's great to hear somebody gasp when you hit a "punch" line or stifle a laugh at a little dig in the manuscript. In general, when you are writing a 90,000 word novel, you are on your own. You have to judge for yourself what is working and what isn't.

Tom B.

Darn it!!! No edit is too small!!!! I knew it, I knew it, I knew it and now I gotta do it!!!

Laura L.

I wish they included the entire Meteor Shower play instead of an excerpt. I saw Meteor Shower when it first ran in NYC. Myself and honestly everyone else walking out was very confused about the overall message and how the plot twist worked. I was hoping to read it now for more clarity.

Catherine

These classes are helping me to become a more critical reader and viewer of comedy, plays, and novels.

Mia S.

"'You like that.' 'Yeah, she got the joke.' Then she says, 'I read people know if they want to sleep with a person within two seconds of meeting them.' There's a little twinge of jealousy established, just in conversation. That's the way we kick off the play. You're pretty well-versed by the top of page 3. It can work a different way completely - it can slowly unfold, which I believe this play does too. It unfolds many layers, as it goes on. But I hope that right off the bat, there's a little bit of intrigue and mystery - but there's no mystery about what's going on, they need to know what's going on. This is what makes something easy to watch and interesting at the same time - you're telling them the story at the same time, kind of effortlessly. I had 3 of the characters really worked out well, and I thought, 'This fourth character is a little bit vague - I don't know when, sometimes, to have her say a line. I'd better give her some more lines, just to make her included a little bit more.' Little tiny lines that kept her alive in the scene. As I watched the rehearsals go on, it brought clarity to it for me; by inserting her more in the scenes, making her have more life, and watching how the actress was interpreting it, I was able to fully see the character and the character's function in the play, and I was able to write toward that. I went in with 3/4 of the characters, and then the last character was developed while we were working on it, while we were in previews. A lot of times, you're done editing because you've run out of time. You can play with something forever. I can see in the first iteration of it, 'OK,there's a problem in the audience grasping its overall message, although they're laughing all the way through. Some people would say, 'What was that about?' Young, completely got it. Older people wanted a more formal theater experience, I think. I started to address that, and I made a few changes - literally just a line, or two lines. And I stopped getting that kind of feedback. I thought, 'Really, it was just two lines? Or is it just jelling mysteriously a little bit better?' It feels done, because it feels like the questions I had were answered. 'OK now we can relax, the play is working as a whole, it's understandable, graspable - it's got enough mystery to it that I like, so it's not just a sitcom. Making it have another life - it had to be, you couldn't see this on TV. You had to sit in a theater to get it."

Carolyn S.

I was on the edge of my seat wanting to SEE this play. it sounds brilliant. I love dynamics in relationship. Vastly interesting - how we humans relate and interact ... especially in modern western culture (and California - Ojai) endless possibilities. Especially for couples .... we are all crazy. Looking at pretense and natural jealousy, competitiveness all fodder for great theatre. I am developing a play TEACHERS WITH GUNS - that looks at the dynamics of people - but using comedy and satire to tell the story.