Playwriting

Re-writes

“Writing and rewriting are a constant search for what it is one is saying” ~John Updike

I’m in the middle of re-writes on a project. It is slow but good. Good means I know what I’m doing, if not yet how to do it. I can see the finish line, even when I’m not completely satisfied with the path to get there. That’s what re-writes are for – In the first draft you write, write, write. After that you figure out the specific details: the who, what, where and why. Re-writes work when you know what you’re doing and then you strive to figure out the exact right way to make that happen. Re-writing in a vacuum is a nightmare; you can’t make something better if you don’t know what your endgame is.

“Writing a first draft is like groping one’s way into a dark room, or overhearing a faint conversation, or telling a joke whose punchline you’ve forgotten. As someone said, one writes mainly to rewrite, for rewriting and revising are how one’s mind comes to inhabit the material fully.”~ Ted Solotaroff

The piece is an adaptation of Poe stories in a number of guises: a full length, a one-act, a competition length one act, PLUS a separate readers theatre Middle school version. ( pardon me while my brain explodes) The full length has an outside skeleton structure to explain why the characters just so happen to be sitting around presenting Poe stories to no one.

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”~Elmore Leonard

I’ve re-written the first ten pages (the meat of the skeleton) of this thing three times now.

  • First re-write: I completely changed the skeleton structure of the play based on some feedback, mostly which asked the question: “why?” Always an excellent question – why are these characters in this situation? It’s not bad to throw characters into a situation in the first draft without answering the “why” but it absolutely needs to be answered further down the road. Because is not an adequate answer. So, by answering the “why” the skeleton shifted and that was the first pass.
  •  Second re-write: Based on the new skeleton, I had a whole bunch of new facts about the world of the play. Facts are neither dramatic nor theatrical, but because this particular world is complete fiction and made up, certain facts have to be woven into the dialogue so that the audience is on the same page as the characters. And, those facts have to be planted in such a way so that it’s natural for the characters to spout said facts. Tricky. This is a slow, slow, slow. Sometimes I spend an hour trying to figure out one freaking sentence that encapsulates a very important point, naturally and with a completely organic flair. Yay me.
  • Third re-write: The character re-write. I’m not keen on characters hanging around without something to hang their hat on. So back to the table to give the main characters an emotional coat rack. So now, characters are delivering information, in an emotional context.

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” ~Stephen King

I feel pretty happy with those first ten pages now. Happy enough to move to the back end of the play and work on that part of the skeleton. Even though it’s slow it’s moving in a forward motion, which is always gratifying. And of course all of this could go out the window when I get the thing into workshop and people start speaking. Trying not to think to much about that….

 “First drafts are learning what your novel or story is about. Revision is working with that knowledge to enlarge or enhance an idea, or reform it.” ~ Thomas Wolfe

About the author

Lindsay Price