Who are you writing for? Work does not exist in a vacuum. The audience is a necessary part of the theatrical experience and that means they are a part of the process. As you write, keep asking the question: Who is my audience? Who am I writing for?
Have you had someone impose on your work? Suggest changes? Make changes on their own behest?
We own the copyright on our writing. The instant we put pen to page. You can do the fancy register process, but legally it’s not necessary. You can’t copyright an idea or a title but you can copyright the execution of that idea. Copyright laws very much favour the creator.
That doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking it’s okay to change a play. Make it better. Make it cleaner. And no one seems to be immune.
I had a director tell me (the day before rehearsals started) that my play wasn’t good enough and that she was taking on the rewrites herself. [Insert heart attack and lawyers here.]
It’s a hard thing to deal with because a production is often on the line. If you want this, you need to let us do that. It’s easy to say, well I do want this so maybe it’s okay if I let them do that.
And of course we’re not talking about constructive criticism that helps your work grow. We’re talking about individuals who think they know better than you.
It’s your play. And that means you can do whatever you want with it. You can accept that changes will be made and not feel guilty. With my high school work, sometimes I do just that. I know that the process of that play is more important than the product.
You can also stand up and say no changes, which may mean – no production, and not feel guilty. I do this all the time. There is no discussion. Do the play as is or don’t do it at all.
But always take charge of the situation. You’re the one who knows better. It’s your work. It’s your baby. You decide. You decide how your baby is going to be presented to the world.
One of the things that causes writer’s block, that can plague writers to death, that can make a writer stick their work in a drawer never to be seen again is this belief:
Your first draft is your best draft.
No, no, no. Again no. A thousand times no.
When you think you have to do your best writing all the time, that’s a lot of pressure. If every time you sit down to write your first thought is this has to be perfect, what happens when the writing is not perfect?
Do you stop writing? Do you give up? Do you decide you’re a horrible writer?
As you work on that first draft, problems are going to crop up. It’s inevitable because you won’t have the story fully mapped out from the very beginning. You won’t fully know your characters. Questions will occur. So what do you do when you encounter a snag with the story?
Do you stop writing? Do you give up? Do you decide you’re a horrible writer?
I hope the answer is no for both situations. You have to keep going, keep writing and accept at times that the writing is not what you want it to be. That you don’t have all the answers.
That your first draft is not your best.
And the only way to solve that problem is to keep writing.
The first draft is merely that number. The first. With more to come. That can be overwhelming for some writers – What do you mean I have to keep writing. I got to the end. I’m done.
The first draft provides the frame. It’s the hanger you’re going to put the clothes on. It’s the room painted white. The first draft will give you the bones. It’s the work you do after the first draft that really counts. That’s where you make it pretty and shiny and vivid. And that’s why we need a first draft. But it’s only the beginning.
It’s easy to get caught up in with writing. Does this ever happen you?
It happens to writers whether they’ve been putting words on the page for a few days or many years. We get so excited that we Just! Want! To! Write! We dive into the deep end of the pool and want to get swimming.
Who has time to prepare? Who has time to wait two hours after eating?
Diving into the deep end with writing is one of the fastest routes to writers’ block. There’s one simple question that every writer needs to ask and answer at the beginning of their process.
Ask this of whatever you’re working on right now:
What do I want my play to do?
How do you name your characters? Baby books? Online baby name sites? Do your character names have meaning? Do you fit a name to a character like a leather glove? Do you agonize forever over your character names or do they come easily?
Recently I named a character Tundra. Just as an experiment, to see what kind of character I would create based on such an….unusual name. It was very exciting! (not skydiving, but you know what I mean) I had this full blown image of this woman – her life, her posture, her way of speaking. All from a name.
How clearly can you see your characters?
Here are five names. Based solely on the name, use the Character Profile Questions below to create a character. When you read the name, who comes to life for you?
▪ Aristotle Lutsky
▪ Kennedy McIntosh (a girl)
▪ Hank Walker Jr.
▪ Wynter Lockwood-Sinclair
▪ Juan Diego “Gato” Velasquez
Character is King
Character, character, character. If you’re writing a play your characters must be king. They are the conduit between your work and the audience. How much do you know about your characters? Do you know their background? Their personal beliefs? How does their personality find it’s way into the dialogue? How does their personality affect the conflict? Answer the following questions about your character:
Best Personality Trait:
Worst Personality Trait:
Level of Education:
Where They Live Now:
Living Environment: (how do they keep their home)
Getting words on the page is vital. If you leave words in your brain, you can’t move forward.
Writers write, that’s what we do. Words on the page should be your mantra, especially if you’re having difficulty writing consistently. Words on the page makes your writing tangible and concrete.
But rules are meant to be broken. I fully believe in getting words on the page. But sometimes a good think is necessary.
This isn’t general thinking. “I should write something.” This is specific focused thinking about a work in progress where you let ideas, characters, questions, and plot points run around your brain.
I think a lot when I’m in the middle of a play. It’s an active part of my process because the work is always with me – when I’m grocery shopping, when I’m getting ready in the morning, when I’m trying to sleep at night. I like to have a constant connection with my writing even when I’m not in front of my laptop.
Get your think on
Talk to yourself. Talk yourself through a plot hole. Imagine a conversation with your main character. Imagine the play is being staged, what does it look like, what are the most effective parts? Use your think time to visualize what you’re working on.
Ask questions. Ask questions and come up with a couple different answers. Ask yourself What if? If you give yourself a structure to your think time (like asking and answering questions) it’ll feel less like a free for all and you may indeed solve problems more quickly.
Sometimes you’ve exhausted your time with the page. You’ve written down so many words and none of them are right. You can’t figure out where to go next. Change the method. Take a comfortable seat, close your eyes and connect to your thoughts.
My favourite think time is when I’m walking. If I’m stuck and frustrated, a walk often does the trick. I can let my brain go wild and get some much needed fresh air. Nine times out of ten, the problem I couldn’t write my way out of unravels itself easily.
And then what?
Write it down. Always have a pen and paper nearby, or put an ap on your phone (like Google Keep) where you can type in your notes. Thinking is good, and if it leads to writing, even better.
Are you a thinker? If you are, don’t shy away from it because of any “how to write” rule. Make it work for you, make it part of your process. Use every tool at your disposal to get that draft done.
An observation doesn’t have to be….
Weird, wacky, out of the ordinary all the time. The point of an observation is that it’s something that comes across your world view. What do you see every day? What patterns repeat themselves? Do you know someone who says the same thing every time you see them? What about an object you see on a regular basis. Observe it, write it down, reflect on it. What’s going on in your world?
I live by Lake Erie and we have several public beach entrances. It’s a great place to walk. I pass by this sign every time I go to the water, which is at least twice a week. It’s a part of my every day and it makes me smile every time I see it. There’s so much to love about this sign. It’s totally old school. The Palmwood still exists but the “Circus by the Sea” night club is no more. Every time I see that a million questions go through my head. What happens at a Circus Night club? Does it matter than it’s a lake and not the sea? What’s the food that has been blacked out in-between Canadian and European? And what is Canadian food anyway – butter tarts and poutine?
What was life like at the time when this sign was current? I can only imagine. And I do.
When you’re closer to the end of a draft than to the beginning it’s time to hunker down and get specific. Look at the play you’re working on and answer these questions. If you can answer every one with confidence, you’re nearing the finish line.
- Why does the world of the play matter?
- What makes my story specific and unique?
- How does each scene advance the journey of the play?
- Is there anything I’m holding on to in the script, even if it doesn’t advance the journey? Why?
- Is there any time I repeat myself? If so, why is it important to the story to repeat that information?
- What style am I writing in?
- Why is this style necessary to the world of the play?
- How do my main characters change from the beginning to the end of the play?
- What are the flaws in my main characters?
- What makes my main character specific and unique?
- Why does the main conflict matter?
- Who is my audience?
- What do I like about my audience?
- How do I want to challenge my audience?
- What do I like about this play?
- What do I love about this play?
- What challenges me about this play?
Did you write it down?
Make it a habit: Observe something, write it down immediately. Observe, write. Don’t wait till you get home, the moment will be gone. Carry a note book with you at all times. If that is too cumbersome, get a phone app. I use Google Keep.
The picture at the top of the post is supposed to represent the future of Charlotte, NC. There are two other murals beside this one (past and present respectively) but this one was just wacky to pass up. What on earth are we supposed to think of the future based on this painting?
Is culture being trapped in a box? Will the environment burn? We’re going to live in pyramids and young boys will wear their parent’s coats? Sure, that’s being literal but come on. Doesn’t it seem to lack cohesion? Perhaps I’m just a dullard when it comes to art. In any case it makes a great writing prompt. This is your future – write a scene that takes place in this world.
You’ve received some feedback. The best scenario is that the feedback is useful, helpful, and practical. It inspires you to get to work right away. The sky opens, the hallelujah chorus plays and you know exactly how to move forward.
This does not always happen.
In fact it rarely happens. For many writers, the reaction when they get feedback is What do I do with this? What do I do now?
Avoid this by creating your own feedback sheet.
Don’t hand your play off to a respondent with a Tell me what you think! Give your respondent direction. Give your respondent context. Give your respondent a specific job as they read your play. Not only is this going to make it easier on your respondent (most times if a respondent fails to give feedback or gives crappy feedback it’s because they have no idea where to start), it’s going to give you a clear picture of what’s working, what’s not and where you need to put your focus during rewrites.
The Feedback form is divided into two parts.
1. Answer this question: Where are you with this draft?
Is this a first draft? Have you been working on it for a month or a year? Are you happy with what you’ve written? Are you frustrated? What do you want to accomplish with this play? Let your respondent know exactly where you are with the draft.
Eg: This is my second draft of “The Waiting Room.” I’ve been working on it for three months. I really love my beginning but struggle a lot with the end. I want this play to really hit the audience. I want them to be dazed when they leave the theatre.
2. Give the respondent a job.
Instead of asking “What do you think?” give a specific job to your respondent. Give them ONE thing to accomplish as they read your play. Ask them – “Do you think the ending is satisfying, why or why not?” Ask them – “Is the main character is loveable or hard to connect to?” Ask them – “Did you get the plot twist?” Come up with ONE thing you want your respondent to answer.
In Part two you’re going to avoid asking for likes and dislikes. These are opinions and they’re subjective. Just become someone “likes” your work doesn’t mean it can’t be improved and just becomes someone “dislikes” your work doesn’t mean it has value. Instead ask your respondent for Impressions and Questions.
1. Impressions are important because they tell you what stays with the reader. And what stays with the reader is what is going to stay with an audience. It could be a moment, an image, a character, a tone, a line of dialogue. What resonates? Ask your respondent for 2 to 3 Impressions.
2. Questions are important because they give you something to answer. They give you a task to accomplish right away. That means you’re not sitting staring at your feedback wondering where to start. You have forward motion. Ask your respondent for 3 questions.
When you give a draft to someone for feedback include your version of this Feedback sheet. By doing so you’ll up your chances of getting that useful, helpful and practical feedback that will move your work forward.