Have you Ever Tried to Write Wrong?

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We’re all so concerned with being right. Our writing has to be perfect. It has to have the right beginning and the right ending. The characters have to be exactly right. If our work isn’t right, then we’re wrong, we’re a failure, we’re bad.

But is that really true? Is it so bad to write wrong? To try to write in the wrong direction?

Have you ever tried to take your writing in the wrong direction on purpose?

I heard a story attributed to Quincy Jones (I know it’s ridiculous to say it like that but I wanted to be clear I’m adding on to something I heard elsewhere) where he told a group of acting students just that. “Have you ever tried to take your work as far wrong as possible? Have you ever tried to see the beauty of being wrong once you’re there? Have you ever tried to go wrong, enjoy the experience and then figure out the steps to make it right?”

These are all fabulous questions for all of us in the creative field. I tell students all day long – it’s ok to fail, we learn from our mistakes not from our successes, we have to fail – and yet it’s the hardest thing to do. We live in a world of right and wrong where right is good and wrong is bad. And it’s especially hard in that world where everything is recorded and broadcast to fail safely. How can a playwright try something out in front of an audience without the worry of being told they’re wrong?

And yet, I love the concept of “find the beauty in being wrong. Enjoy the experience of being wrong and then find your way back.”

Use this concept as an 2nd draft exercise.

If you’re working on a piece and it’s not going well stop trying to find the right answer.  Take a character in the absolute wrong direction. Have them do things you know this character would never do. Have this character steal something. Stalk someone. Take drugs. Have this character kill another character and deal with the after math. Stop trying to figure out the problems in the plot and throw more problems in. Make a mess and then step back.

You may find the answer you never knew you were looking for. You may find that being wrong is the exact right thing to do. And at the very least you’ll have a creative experience. We spend too much time trying to be right with our writing.

Spend some time being absolutely wrong.

 

 

Observation Thursday

Observation is my number one method of finding play ideas. If you’re ever at a loss for coming up with something to write about, start logging observations. I write down observations on a daily basis and on Thursdays, I’m going to share one with you what I’ve seen and then you could do with it.

Observation Thursday

 

Staring at the Wall

Observation: Two people in a conversation outside of of store. The man is talking very intently, very quietly. The woman is facing and staring at the wall, not saying anything.

Date: Wednesday June 18 2014

Comments: I walked by this couple and boy did I wish I could be invisible or turn into a fly and find out what on earth was going on here. When I say the woman was staring at the wall, she was nearly face planting the thing. I stopped a little way away to see if the situation would evolve or change. But in five minutes everything remained exactly the same. Man talking intently. Woman staring at the wall.

What can you do:  Create the scenario.What is the relationship here? Are they boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife, or exes, or brother/sister, or two best friends? What is the cause of this situation? What happened? Has the woman done this before or is this the first time she has decided that there is nothing else she can do other than face the wall? Write the scene starting with the event or comment or conversation that leads the woman to stop, turn, and stare at the wall.

The Top Ten Rewrite Questions

When you’re working on rewrites questions are your greatest ally. They are practical and tangible. You can answer a question, you can realize the answer is already in the text, you can choose not to answer a question. Being mysterious is okay so long as it’s a conscious choice and not a missing plot point. When you’re asking people to give you feedback don’t ask for their opinion, get them to ask questions.

You can question many different parts of your work – the characters, the story, the structure – just to name a few. If you want your writing to be specific, effective and efficient it’s important to question.

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The Top Ten Questions to Ask of Your Work

  1. Why is the first page a great introduction?
  2. Why is the last page a vivid ending?
  3. Why will an audience find the world of your play interesting?
  4. How does each scene move the play forward?
  5. Why do you leave each scene when you do?
  6. Does each character have a unique voice in their dialogue?
  7. Are your characters living the story or are they telling facts?
  8. Does each character have a want? How do they go after it?
  9. What is the main conflict of the play? What are the obstacles?
  10. Is there conflict in every scene?

Ask yourself…. how you doin’?

When you’re working on a play or any piece of writing there are some key questions you should ask yourself. Sometimes when we’re in the thick of writing it’s hard to think about why we started in the first place.

What do you want for your work?

By asking and answering some questions you can clarify and focus your goals for the piece. Knowing your goals can be extremely helpful during rewrites. I like to ask these questions after I have a first draft because then I can refer directly to the text and see if my answers are reflected in the text.

If I want my play to be fast paced and action packed, but my play has a lot of complicated scene changes, that’s an issue. Nothing slows down the pace faster than a lot of scene changes. If I want the audience to have an emotional connect to my main character, but my main character spends a lot of time talking in facts, statistics and dates, that’s an issue.

Answer the following questions about the piece you’re currently working on.

  1. What do you want the audience to experience during the performance?
  2. What do you want the audience to remember after the performance?
  3. What are you struggling with right now?
  4. What do you like best about your piece?
  5. What will your audience connect to most in your piece?
  6. Why are you writing this piece?
  7. What do you want to achieve with this piece?

 

 

 

Observation Thursday

Observation is my number one method of finding play ideas. If you’re ever at a loss for coming up with something to write about, start logging observations. I write down observations on a daily basis and on Thursdays, I’m going to share one with you what I’ve seen and then you could do with it.

Observation Thursday

 

20 Rolling Chairs

Observation: A townhouse has 20 rolling chairs out in front of it. Why so many?

Date: Sunday June 1 2014

Comments: I was staying in Toronto for the weekend to teach. The walk from my friend’s place to the class was about 45 minutes. A great way to start the day. On my walk, I happened across this:

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20 rolling chairs. Right in front of someone’s house. It’s one of those situations that combines something so ordinary – they’re just chairs after all – with something so out of place. Chairs are not supposed to be lined up like this. Outside.

And that’s not all. When I came back that night, the guy who owned the place with the rolling chair forest was blow drying one of the chairs. Blow drying  chair. You cannot make this stuff up.

What can you do:  Create the scenario. It doesn’t matter what the real reason 20 rolling chairs are on some guys front patio. What’s your reason? What’s your character’s reason? What’s at stake here? What needs to happen to these chairs and why? And why was the guy using a blow dryer on them?

Observation Thursday

Observation is my number one method of finding play ideas. If you’re ever at a loss for coming up with something to write about, start logging observations. I write down observations on a daily basis and on Thursdays, I’m going to share one with you what I’ve seen and then you could do with it.

Observation Thursday

 

The Pie Plate

Observation: A woman mentions the name of a restaurant 7 times in less than 2 minutes.

Date: Monday May 30, 2014

Comments: Two couple are sitting together on a bench. One of the women is the only voice I hear clearly. Mostly because she’s loud and she’s non-stop. She doesn’t stop talking. They’re discussing where they’re going to go for dinner and she’s off –  “We have to go to the PIE PLATE, it’s really good it’s called the PIE PLATE, John look it up, they have all kinds of pie, the quiche is apparently amazing. The PIE PLATE, are you looking it up John? Search for THE PIE PLATE….” and on it goes for at least another minute. I am not exaggerating, nor am I exaggerating the number of times she named the restaurant. Her husband said absolutely nothing during the whole exchange.

What can you do: Conversation like this should get your spidey sense tingling. Plays are all about characters and characters are all about relationships.  What is the relationship like between this PIE PLATE woman and her husband? Her practically non verbal husband? Is she like this all the time where she has to repeat things non stop in order to be heard? What are they like when no one else is around? Maybe he likes the repetition. How long have they been married? Has she always been like this or has there been a change?

Write the scene the very next time the two are alone.

See you next Thursday!

 

Observation Thursday

Observation is my number one method of finding play ideas. If you’re ever at a loss for coming up with something to write about, start logging observations. I write down observations on a daily basis and on Thursdays, I’m going to share one with you what I’ve seen and then you could do with it.

Observation Thursday

 

Baby Headbands

Observation:  A woman at a church bazaar selling teeny baby headbands that seem totally inappropriate for babies.

Date: Saturday May 24, 2014

Comments: So I walked into this bazaar, the whole town I was in was having garage-sales-a -polooza event and I was wandering from one to another. This one was in the basement of a church. You can tell at a glance if the bazaar going to have tables with interesting crafts, or crochet toilet paper roll covers.  This was a category B bazaar. At one table a woman was selling these very small headbands for babies. I guess it’s important to dress up a baby. I don’t have one, I don’t know. But the thing that struck me was that they had feathers, and beads, and tiny shiny things attached to the headband. I have a five month old niece. EVERYTHING goes in her mouth. I can just image her getting hold of this headband. Sticking it in her mouth. And you know the rest.

What can you do: You always want to think of the person or character who could be connected to an observation. And in this case, my thought was – everybody has a job. It could be mailman, teacher. It could be something less stable. It could be glamourous or anything but. School is a job. Doing everything or anything possible not to work is a job.

So who’s the person who decides to turn baby headbands into a job? Are they changing careers? Is this their first stab at making something? Is this a hobby that’s getting some traction? What about the relative of this person – your sister makes inappropriate baby headbands and wants your baby to wear one. What does that scene look like?

See you next Thursday!

 

Your Restaurant Scene Isn’t Working

I have read countless scenes that take place in a restaurant.

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Two people sit down. They look at the menu. They talk about the entres. They order. And… I am…. asleep…..

This is exactly what happens when two people go into a restaurant. It makes sense to follow that pattern, especially if you think that a restaurant is the perfect place for a scene.

But no one goes to the theatre to see the way things are usually done. No one cares if Jimmy orders the french soup and Jane orders a green salad. If they wanted to see what goes on in a real restaurant they would go to a restaurant. They’re not at a restaurant. They’re at a theatre.

You have to do two things with your restaurant scene. Right now.

  1. Get to the point.  We don’t need to see two people ordering soup to know they’re in a restaurant.  Why are they they? How does this scene help move the play forward?
  2. Make it extraordinary. That’s what people want to see. They want to see something they recognize twisted into something that just doesn’t happen in daily life.

Keep in mind – extraordinary doesn’t have to mean aliens drop kicking the white house. It could. That would be something to see. It could be as simple as the waiter taking the orders at that restaurant breaks down at the table because french onion soup reminds her of her husband who left her for their French Canadian neighbour yesterday. That is something that doesn’t happen every day to two people ordering in a restaurant.

Don’t discount the aliens though, that would be interesting too.

Exercise

  • Make a list of five ordinary situations. Eating in a restaurant. Driving to work. Sitting at your desk. Washing dishes.
  • With each situation brain storm five extraordinary events that might happen in that situation.
  • Choose one situation and one event and write that scene. Dont get caught up with reality or money or that could never happen. Just write the scene.

Here is a great example of what I mean by taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. In this video a man makes tea. That’s it. And yet the manner in which he makes tea is far from ordinary….

 

Are You Invisible?

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I dramaturge a community project t in which playwrights write plays based on a historical locally connected topic. It’s the hardest kind of play to write especially for the beginner because they have to take research and make it sound natural and organic.

How do you combine information you really want the audience to know and theatrical writing effectively?

What often happens is the dialogue comes across as informational.  Dear brother, I can’t wear stockings, it’s 1942. There’s a war on don’t you know. It sounds like the playwright lecturing directly to the audience – here is information you need to understand in order to get this moment. It doesn’t sound like organic dialogue that would happen in natural conversation.

Are you invisible in your work?

Are you? Does your dialogue sound like natural organic conversation or are you trying to direct your audience experience? If that’s your calling, then you should be on stage instead of behind the scenes. One of the jobs of the playwright is to disappear.

Certainly you need  a point of view.  You need a reason for writing. A thesis. And you want to communicate your reason to an audience. But your characters should not, and cannot act as your mouthpiece. They are not shills for your point of view. They have to have their own voice and their own personality.

It’s not easy to write this way. It’s difficult to imprint your thesis on a variety of characters sharing a story and make it seem completely natural at the same time.

So how do you do it?

  1. Develop your characters fully. Make them specific, make them unique, make them three dimensional and most importantly, give them enough details so that they differ from you and your personality.
  2. Develop a clear character want. If you have a character expressing your personal point of view, make sure they express that point of view via a defined want. In that way the character is more than a mouthpiece. They have drive, they have reason, they have purpose beyond what you want them to say.
  3. Never have one character say to another “….do you remember…?” or,  “as you know….”.  these are give away phrases that what comes next is not something the character would ever say, it’s something the playwright wants the audience to know. And that is neither natural or organic.

Are you invisible in your work? Why or why not?

Discipline or Devotion?

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I ran a half marathon yesterday. It’s my second of the year. I did pretty well (for me) with the first half marathon but there were some problems :

  1. I didn’t fuel properly leading me to severely run out of steam in the second hour.
  2. I didn’t stretch properly in the weeks leading up to the race leaving me with screaming hips.
  3. I went out way to fast in the first hour leading to the same steam problem in #1.

For this second race, I’ve spent the past two months correcting these problems. Practicing with different types of fuel. Stretching at least six days a week. Working with a timer to get the pacing down.

I was psyched for this race, I had a plan ready to execute. I was ready to roll. Except for one thing. The one thing I didn’t prepare for.

Hills.

The first three miles for this half went uphill. Let me repeat that. I ran uphill for three miles.  Half an hour. Up hill.

Every plan went out the window. Well, except for the going slow in the first 30 minutes plan. That was inevitable. But after a half an hour running straight up hill (UP. HILL.) My legs weren’t all that keen to continue to run another 10.1 miles. Neither was I.

And yet I did. I wanted to quit. I thought about walking the rest of the race.  But I didn’t. I was determined to carry through and finish.

I’m not a disciplined runner. I only run 3-4 times a week,  I’m not the ideal shape or weight to be a great runner. I don’t have any plans to change these things.

I am a determined runner. I know how to get the job done. When my plans for the race went awry,  I had to decide quickly how I was going to handle the rest of the race. I decided to enjoy my surroundings, take in the day, put a smile on my face and keep running.

I am a devoted runner. I can’t believe I have the capacity and the ability to run for over two hours and not feel like falling apart after. I love how running makes me feel. I miss it when I don’t do it regularly.

What kind of writer are you? Disciplined? Determined? Devoted?

As I write about my race, I see the same patterns in how I write.

I’m not a disciplined writer. I don’t write for hours at a time, every day. I don’t write at a desk. I have gone for a month without writing and not felt bad about it at all.

I am a determined writer. I know how to get the job done with a piece. Deadlines work for me. Often there’s no one else pushing me but my internal deadline and I’ll feel guilty if I don’t meet it.

I am a devoted writer. Writing is the thing I love to do. It’s the most important activity in my life. I work to make sure writing is not a chore or a task. I never want to be a slave to writing, I want to enjoy it. That means, perhaps, my writing isn’t as successful as it could be. Or as well known as it could be. But I do know it means I’ll never be a regretful writer.

Who are you? Disciplined? Devoted? Determined?

What type of writer do you strive to be?

What type of writer do you want to be?

What type of writing works best for you?