• Monday, March 28, 2011
  • Cure for writer’s block-

    That title’s sure to get me hits.

    The cure is calling up a friend and talking about it.

    Last week I got feedback on my latest scene that was so superlative that I froze up. I mean… how can I top a scene that everyone seemed to love?

    And I didn’t know how to end the play. I kind of- sort of- knew- but I had no idea how to get there. I realised that one major character was superfluous and I had to remove her from the play entirely. I knew that there were all these characters with all these problems but I didn’t know how to get them to work through them in a way that was both structurally cohesive and entertaining. Writing from the seat of my pants- without an outline in advance- had lead me to a very interesting place in my play- and a tonal shift that I never would have anticipated- but now left me with no idea where to go next.

    So I called Megan, and we talked it through, and now I have a seven beat outline for my new, re-structured play.

    For the big gaps in the outline, I’ll need to address what I’ve been ignoring so far-

    One character lacks any major flaws.

    The parents in my play are nearly indistinguishable, and need to have distinct personalities, goals and problems.

    Once I figure that out… I’ll be ready to start the second draft.

    I can do this.

  • Friday, March 4, 2011
  • Advice from writers

    I love Adam Szymkowicz’s blog- here’s a part especially from a recent interview that addressed what I’m thinking about these days, regarding re-writes.

    Adam Szymkowicz: I Interview Playwrights Part 320: Matthew PaulOlmos.

    Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

    A:  Something I’m beginning to learn the long way is to not only embrace questioning, but be willing to make changes afterwards.

    It is very easy, sometimes, to come up with a pretty good first or second draft of a play; you have many moments that work, there is an overall arc to the piece. All in all you think to yourself, “this is decent.” And in many ways you are happy with it. And in your own arrogant way, you think to yourself, “It’s already better than half the shit out there.”

    And hopefully, if you are doing your job, you’ll work through the script with a director, actors, etc., and listen to them when they ask you questions, challenge what you’ve written, and communicate to you what they are getting from the piece. You’ll create an environment that aims not only to give you feedback, but asks every person in the room to ask really deep questions about what it is you’re doing with this play and what it means in the world around us.

    And then there’s the playwright back in their bedroom, or barstool, with all these notes. And you begin to read over your script again, and some of the changes you have been thinking over…they just seem so big. And you become afraid to mess with the parts of the script that already work. So you begin to just only tinker. Or clean up certain scenes. You begin to question how well a reading went, and theorize that is why certain parts didn’t work. Perhaps you’ve already rented a space, or scheduled a public reading, and you think to yourself that with this one talented actress or this one skilled actor, the script will fly regardless.

    I find that, often, writers are too afraid to turn everything they’ve written onto its head and address the true problems inside it. We don’t want to damage the sections of the piece that already work. So we try this patch’job, or pretend the missing pieces will not be missed. Or we think that the story we are telling doesn’t need to go any further. That this one aspect of whatever topic we’re writing about is enough. We let certain blames fall onto the characters onstage, as opposed to digging deeper and presenting a play that discusses why those characters are flawed to begin with. We let our script run along the surface because we are too scared and too lazy to try to write something much more complex and difficult.

    It is our job both as writers and as people to always question, but not to stop there. Rather to dig into ourselves for answers, and when we find them, to have the courage to completely disassemble something we’ve worked so hard on. To not settle for something good, but try for something that scares the shit out of you instead.

    And from my favourite screenwriting blog, Go Into The Story, this Q&A with screenwriter John Swetnam:

    How much time do you spend in prep-writing (i.e., brainstorming, character development, plotting, research, outlining)? Which of the aspects of prep do you tend to devote the most time and focus to?

    My process works like this. I come up with an idea and then I put on my “producer” hat. What’s the budget, genre, tone? Where does it fit in the market place? Who would I cast in it? Who would direct? What’s the trailer, poster? Who’s my audience, etc, etc, etc? If I can answer all these questions clearly and I’m still pumped then I know I have something that I can dig into. That’s when I put on my “writer” hat and forget the rest and start exploring the story and the characters. I have put myself inside a box and now I can really get creative. I constantly ask myself if I think what I’m doing is cool. Do I love this? Am I excited to see it on screen? The ball usually just starts rolling and I put together a pretty fast beat sheet. Then I do a treatment and get feedback on it asap. I love feedback. If I’m still feeling good, then I rewrite the treatment a few times before I go into a really detailed outline. Then I set it aside for a while and work on other stuff. If I come back to it after a week, read it, and still love it, I do some more rewrites and then kill the first draft. I do tend to write and rewrite as I go along, but I can pump out a first draft in under a week. Then I put on my “director” hat and really dig into the tiny details and make sure I know the answer to every possible question that might come up. What if an actor asked me this? What if the production design wanted to know about this, etc, etc? Only after I’ve worn all three hats, which means at least three drafts on my own, I get more feedback, take more time away and rewrite and rewrite and get more feedback until I honestly think it’s as good as I can get it. Then I send it to the manager, get more feedback and rewrite. Then send it to the agent, get more feedback and rewrite. And then… I drink… and then we take it out. Easy, right?

    A completely different process from that which is generally advocated in playwriting- but I’m looking forward to trying this out when I start writing my first screenplay next semester.