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.

No comments: