mercredi 28 novembre 2012

Writing a play

It's been a while...

I'm working on a play. The project is at a point where I can acknowledge publicly that I'm working on it. It's still incredibly fragile, tiny, not nearly fully-fledged... it's nothing. I've "worked on plays" before, and... they haven't always worked out. But this project is a bit more than an idea. It's starting to be an actual outline. I'm being good, and I'm concentrating on structure.
I'm trying to ask - and answer - the following questions systematically, for each scene :

With whom?
What happens?
What do we learn about the characters?
How does this advance the plot?

These, to me, are tedious questions. Because I'd always rather write dialogue. If I have a vague idea of characters, I can make them talk to each other for hours. But does this advance the plot? Non, Madame. Pas du tout.
So, for the time being, I'm refraining from making my characters talk. But I'm talking to myself A LOT. If someone ever finds my recorder - say it falls in the street - he/she will think I'm incredibly self-involved or will understand that I'm the type of writer who can't help thinking out loud before writing. That person will also hear many singing/guitar recording sessions. But that's another story.

I'm embracing this "I talk into a recorder in order to write more effectively" side of me now. There are times when I don't even try to type something when I feel like I'm going to block. Instead, I press the "record" button and I talk. I then type out what I've said, then I highlight, and then, eventually, I write dialogue. It's strange, because this method has helped me to tap into deeper emotions. That's when I know I'm a theatre gal at heart - the spoken word just seems to resonate in a special way.

Lajos Egri wrote a playwriting handbook called The Art of Dramatic Writing. I've had the book for nearly ten years, and I had started reading it way back when. At first, I rejected everything about it. I disagreed with everything. It seemed so outdated, such a traditional approach. Egri uses words like "premise" and "conflict" and "pivotal characters". At that time, I was starting to read Beckett, and other very modern plays. Those playwrights had all walked away from realist conventions. Many artists didn't even believe that conflict was necessary to write a good play anymore.

I've come back to Egri ; out of curiosity, at first. Then, I started consulting the handbook because I realized that I needed to learn how to write a play, and that's what Egri helps you to do.
I hope that I'll walk away from tradition at some point, that I'll find new dramatic forms... but first, I need to write at least one gosh-darn, full-lenght, play! I need to learn how to make characters live in a theatrical world. They need to be tri-dimensional, and they need to pursue their own personal goals and step on each other's toes in the process.

It sounds obvious, but in order to think clearly about the overall structure of the play, I need to take a step back, and sit with the audience, look at the stage, and ask the simplest of questions : "what do I see ?" and "what next?".

Little by little, I'm shedding the excuses and putting in the work. We'll see if it pays off this time.
Any ideas, tips, strategies on writing are welcome ; feel free to leave a comment, or send me a message. Does structure come easy for other playwrights and writers?