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Matthew Campling: 5 tips for writing plays based on your own experience

Matthew Campling says 'be guided by your gut'

Matthew Campling’s 10th produced play, The Secondary Victim [1], which recently had a four week run at the Park Theatre, was inspired by his own real-life events. He was a psychotherapist for 20 years, a magazine agony uncle and a regular guest expert on TV, radio and in print.

1. Make your storytelling clear

Establish a clear through-line, logically and psychologically. Don’t be hazy about the journey and hope the audience will work it out.

2. Detach yourself

The closer the material is to your experience the more you need a purely objective eye. Write out the narrative as though it happened to someone else.

3. Apply your reactions to your characters

Identify ‘negative’ emotions – self-pity, anger, fear, depression, sadness – in yourself as a result of the source material. Then use this understanding to inform your characters’ personalities and motivations.

4. Accept it might not go well

Be prepared not to come out of the play’s journey smelling of roses. People respect honesty and we all make mistakes. You should achieve something universal, not narrowly defensive and definitely not about revenge.

5. Follow your own instincts

Look at other people’s experiences and perspectives on your issue. Finally write exactly what you need to, to please the feeling in your gut. Be guided by your gut.