Saturday, June 30, 2007

All Over But the Fade Out

To SaipanWriter on Monologues, June 26:

I'm coming to this late, as I think you've written past this already. But I had a couple of thoughts which might be useful for revision.

Monologues are analogous to songs in musical or arias in opera. They do a few things. They concentrate the emotion of a character. Good ones have a beginning middle and end, like a short story, and the character can be changed as a function of speaking them. They catapult the action forward.

They are tools of revelation. The character is revealing his deepest thoughts, his most heartfelt opinion. Sometimes the character is disingenuous, and revelation is manipulation.

As an actor I was taught that they are tools of persuasion. The character is persuading himself, an antagonist (always someone hostile to them in some way) or the audience. Often they appear in significant places in the play--before the end of an act, for example. Sometimes they come at the climax, but I think that is a tricky place to have just one person speaking, unless the antagonist is on stage, catching his breath before continuing battle, or the whole cast is there to witness.

The most powerful ones change the action in some way, precipitate action, send the action in a new and charged direction.

Between now and when you revise, read a lot of plays in your genre. Look at monologues and see what makes them tick. Read them out loud. (Always a good idea when you are writing, anyway. See if the words can be said by a human being :)

We just watched *All About Eve* last night--excellent movie about theatre, with some great monologues. Look at Eve's story in the dressing room, Bill's harangue about theatre, Margo's talk about "being a woman" in the stalled car. And of course Addison's acerbic "Chorus" speech in the beginning, setting up the story.

Hope this helps and is not too vague. I have 2000 words to go, and am a bit addled today.

What is Workshopping--playwrighting forum, June 29th:

Saipan, congratulations on finishing! And congratulations on generating some interest in it already.

Someone with an actual foot in the current state of the theater can answer this better, but I believe a workshop is a dry run, the goal being to invite backers to see it and generate interest and financial investment. It is done a lot for musicals, because musicals have become horribly horribly expensive.

In the old days, you'd get together a party of rich New Yorkers and Cole or George and Ira or Irving would stop by and play through their score, the director would give a pep talk and people would get out their checkbooks. Then you'd go into rehearsal, work on the thing, try it out in New Haven, watch how the audience liked it, cut musical numbers and write new ones, recast roles if need be. You'd do this for a few weeks, and then you'd go to Broadway--and even if you were Porter or Gershwin or Berlin you'd still run the risk of it being a dismal flop and closing at Intermission. But that was okay, because there were scads of musicals opening and closing, and chances are you had another two projects in the works anyway.

Broadway has changed--musicals are few and far between, and have to be guaranteed moneymakers. Hence the workshop. The show is cast, staged minimally, tried out before small audiences. A dramaturg is called in to tweak story, songs are tried and discarded--all of this done over weeks and months before major production money is sunk into the project. Only when all or most of the creative kinks are worked out are investors courted.

And the other essential element--feedback is asked for, and given. (Which I always thought was a very Age of Aquarius development, right up there with the focus group. I can't imagine Cole Porter in the 30's asking for "feedback" with a straight face.)

My best guess. Here I show my age. I've never workshopped as a verb. I've done staged readings of plays-in-progress, where the audience was invited to discuss the piece afterwards, what they liked and didn't like. I'm guessing that's what your director means. If you trust this guy (very important) and are ready to surrender your baby to the world, having real human beings act it out is probably the most effective tool in seeing what does and does not work.

(That was a lengthy response. Also precious. Whatever will I do without this forum ;) But I hope this is a help.

...Feedback is scary, no doubt about it. You have to learn detachment. It can be done. It's not you that is being criticized, it's your work, and you can always learn more about the process of writing. But it takes a great deal of trust initially. (This is why I made a comment about trusting the director. It has to be someone who doesn't have his own agenda and unresolved ego issues...the type that will rewrite your whole script without telling you.)

The good thing about theater is that directors still want imput from the writer during the process. In film, once they option your script, you are out of the loop while they butcher with impunity. You won't get rich from either, but you might get more satisfaction from having a play produced.

To Keyboard Warrior, Guys Writing Romance, June 30

Wow! Found a Vein of Gold! You don't know what is in you until you write a lot for an extended period of time. I would consider myself "romance-challenged", wouldn't pick up a Harlequin or anything like that, but every single story I've written in the last two and a half years (including three and a half novels) is chock full of romance--much to my surprise.

And it isn't unusual for guys to write romance. I belong to a huge writer's group--one of its most prolific writers started as a technical writer and is now a very successful flash fiction author. He got into speculative/horror because that's what people wanted, but he also writes and publishes a boatload of romance.

Because of that, I let my surfer-dude playwright specialize in romance. I took all my arguments about why I write romance and gave them to him, and he was happy to spout them for me, in a very virile sort of way, of course.

Follow the energy and see where it leads you!

To Michelle, June 30th:

Meant to write you, but often I go out with a fizzle, instead of a bang. I finished and validated Thursday night, after a long day, most of it spent waiting for Stephen's '84 Chevy Cavalier to be repaired.

Crashed yesterday.

I've been trying to get back to the script, to smooth it out, but am still sleep deprived.

I have some scenes, or ideas for scenes, which I guess I will put in the rewrite. I kind of hate my ending. It definitely needs work.

And the cats can bear to be in the same room now, but Max is a party animal when the sun goes down, and it is really wearing to us. Last night we were also awakened by this very loud sound like a screech or a police whistle outside. We thought perhaps it was an owl, and went outside to try to make it fly away. Instead after several loud minutes, we found the source--a very small toad on our patch of lawn. We captured him, and are going to move him a damp spot on the neighboring property after dark.

So that's where I am. Thanks again for joining in the fray.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Last Lap Boredom

Monday, June 18th, to Michelle--

Nope, we can't see ourselves and we really can't see our writing.

Thursday, June 21st, to Michelle--

I'm over 15K and am reaching that point where my characters have stopped saying clever things as well. I think ideally as a romantic comedy this would be a ninety minute script. I think I'm going to fill out what's left with the kind of stuff you find in the deleted scene section of the DVD....

On the forum:

AvenK--you can't judge it while you write it, you can't judge yourself when you write it, you just have to write it daily, and get it out of the way, as you said.

Been reading Syd Field. He had an interesting breakdown of the first draft revision process (bear with me if you've heard this one before:) He thinks you end up rewriting:

80% of Act I
60% of Act II part one
25-35% of Act II part two
10-15% of Act III

(His three act structure is really four acts, each 30 pages/minutes long.)

Isn't that interesting if that's true? Because it kind of implies that you don't know what the piece is really about until the end. The end ends up informing the beginning.

So the important thing is to finish, for that's where the treasure is!

Sunday, June 24th, to Michelle--

I think I finally notice a pattern here. I have about three thousand words to go, roughly four and a half days, and this ennui with the whole thing is descending. I wrote in a new character today who, I suspect, is totally unnecessary, and a little too much like an A. R. Gurney stock character invader (the old woman from The Golden Age, if you really want to know....but, but! How can that be? I'm basing it on Mimsi Harbach, related to Otto Harbach, who really did end up in a Cole Porter lyric, and on Jane Carlee, whose pet ocelot really inspired Bringing Up Baby....). And I am very resistant to going back and looking at the outline, which I should probably do at this point, to fill in gaps. Which I do have. Even if I wrote a bunch of 30 second scenes to fill them in, it might help....

What I'm missing is my MC behaving badly in flashback....

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Muse of Dramedy

To a ScriptFrenzy forum member whose minor character was hijacking her drama and making it a comedy:

I gave your quandary some thought today, while avoiding my other projects in the 106-degree Arizona heat.

I have set an odd pace for this thing. I write for a couple of days in a burst, and then I step back and look at the big picture for a day. It's somewhat unusual for me, but it seems to work. There's always the guilty tension of stopping for a day, and the fear that there won't be anything when I get back to it. Then I read over what I have (being careful not to edit), read the burgeoning synopsis, get images and ideas, and the next day write a thousand words.

The day off seems fraught with danger, because my first impulse is, like a shark, to keep swimming at all costs....

Character thought is that they are good, they show where the energy is leading, and are worth pursuing but only if they serve your big picture, what you are trying to say. If not, then either you have to take the situation back in hand or you have to change your big picture. It is a balance, unfettered creativity vs structure, seat-of-your-pants vs the outline, and I would be very surprised if there aren't half a dozen forums devoted to this problem already. (I haven't looked for them.)

Anyway, my big picture work today was to finish reading Syd Field's Screenwriter's Workbook to get some idea of how to best arrange my Act II. And he addresses your problem in part in the chapter on Act III: "If you experience any resistance, doubts, or judgements, just 'bend with it,' acknowledge it, and continue writing....If your ending comes out different from what you want it to be, write it one way, put it away...and then write it again; this time it will be the way you want it....[If you're writing a drama and] it comes out funny, write it, stick it in a drawer somewhere and forget about it, then go back and write it the way you want to."

My other thought about tone is it is a lot like theme. Stephen King is a seat-of-the-pants writer, and he says he doesn't even know the theme of his piece until he has--you guessed it--finished the first draft.

Hope this is a help. I may have melted too far to give sound advice :)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Dispatches from the Frenzy...

To a forum member, June 2nd:

It is possible that your first act needs work. Now is not the time to do it. I would keep moving forward at all costs.

Some very basic questions: Do you have a rough idea where you are headed? Do you have an ending in mind? Do you know what your protagonist wants? (Strong desire precipitates action.) Do you know which characters stand in the way and why? Do you have your Act I and II plot points, if you are doing three acts? Can you write or have you written a one page synopsis of the action? Some swear off that kind of overview and structure this early in the game. I think we have so few words (comparatively) to work with that we need to make every one count.

If you haven't thought about structure, go take a walk and do so. And then keep writing. At the end of the walk you may have a better idea of where you are headed. Keep writing in that direction. Don't scuttle the first act until you have the rest of the story. (And if you have to, realize it was an essential part of the process.)

To the Playwrighting Forum, June 3rd:

I confess I am an interloper in the Playwrighting section. I'm a former stage actress and am writing a screenplay about theatre. I'm studying a little playwrighting on the side because I figure if I get stuck, I can have my surfer-dude playwright yammer on about it. :)

So I have no books to recommend on playwrighting, per se. But I can give you my tried and true references for story and character building.

Plot points come from Syd Field's *Screenplay*. He's one of the gurus of modern screenwriting. Having reread him recently, I realize he is pretty lightweight in the details of building the drama. But he's a fast read and gives you the basics. Richard Ray uses his structure for novels in *The Weekend Novelist*. It's the basic structure of western narrative tradition.

Here's a multimedia example of plot points from Syd Field's website:

Plays hit their marks a little differently. I found this on a very promising website and it breaks down plays a little more precisely (with examples you might know)
Structural diagram of a two-act play:

I'm going to recommend Michael Shurtleff's *Audition* here, because it's the best "acting in a can" I've ever found. Shurtleff gives you a list of twelve guideposts to get you into character *fast* in a cold reading situation. But I've found them a set of useful tools when I have more time to prepare a scene, and I imagine they would be really excellent to use to engineer characters and make sure something is happening onstage. Shurtleff says every scene is a love scene. Think about it. (That's worth the price of the book right there.)

Summary of the Twelve Guideposts:

Hope this helps.

P.S. Please, anyone chime in if they know a good book or source!

Letter to Michelle, June 8th:

I'm poking along...only at 4863, which puts me a few hundred behind.

I'm totally sporadic in my storybuilding of course, and am just sticking scenes in, higgledy-piggledy.

Sometimes I'm close to brilliant. Other times it's all quite terrible.

To a forum member, worried that he has too many characters, June 8th:

For a first draft, don't sweat the numbers. That's what second drafts, thirteeth drafts, final drafts are for.

As you revise, you may combine characters and settings to tighten the play. Now's not the time to worry. Get everything down and don't judge it. Now is the time to dream big, be expansive, and try a lot of things that may not work.

Later you can go through and ask, "Is every character, setting and scene absolutely necessary to the story I am trying to tell?" That kind of discernment is required later. If you try to apply it now, you are second-guessing your Muse. You run the risk of stalling and not finishing.

Just my thoughts--from a writer who does the same thing :)

To a forum member, June 13th:

I think you are right about writing a script being harder. Daily word count is lower, but every word has to count. It is a little like writing micro or flash fiction, or what Andrew Vachss said about writing the short story: "It's like fighting in a real small ring, you have to get busy quick. It's easier to make mistakes, and it costs more if you do." You have to do some prep, you can't totally wing it. (One might make an exception for the suspense genre.)

I tried to cheat yesterday. I threw in a scene from one of my NaNo novels. I transcribed it from memory. Then I went back to look at the original and discovered how lean and mean it had become in the script. Surprise! I think I got a whopping 300 words out of it.

I know I can do this becausssse...I've written three 50K novels in the last two years....and the reason I thought I might be able to do that is because I wrote a 230-page film adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's Villette in college (which was totally suckitudinous, by the way.)

So how can we get you back on track? Can we ask you for your pitch (a three or four sentence summary?) Can we ask you what you wish to accomplish with this piece (dream big)? Can you make the next scene a big smack-down fight (always fun to write)? Can you write your climax, so you have something to work toward? (I never write in sequence, I'm not disciplined enough :) Can we do rain dances and make offerings?

To Michelle, June 13th:

Broke 8000 yesterday. Then we were out getting our car repaired today. I don't have a laptop, so I spent some time at the car shop ignoring Fox News and drawing character diagrams. Then I came home and wrote index cards for the scenes I do have (I have about 43 distinct scenes, but some of them are tiny flashes.) Then I went back to my one page synopsis, filled in some gaps, printed it out triple space and wrote ideas for new scenes in between the lines, complete with dialogue as characters yelled it out in my mind.

The 20K deadline is deceiving, because you spend an awful lot more time plotting things out in a script before you write them up. At least I do. People in the forum talk about just letting characters yammer on, but I know better than that. Every word has to count.

Everytime I sit down and open Celtx and look at my script, I feel cheerful. Which I think is good.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Back at it...

Amazing how intimidating the thought of blogging can be.

May goals: I read five books, made two SoulCollage cards, and did morning pages for twenty days. I did not write besides that, and I didn't do the revisions I've been putting off for the last few months. (The less said about my exercise goals, the better.)

June's goals are easy: three books and a screenplay. I'm one of 7000 people doing ScriptFrenzy, and just finished my 667 words for today! Whee!