The Journey of a Play: Rewrites

The second video in our Journey of a Play series. The topic? Rewrites!

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Welcome to the Journey of a Play, in which over the next year, we’re going to take you through the step by step process of what happens to a play here at Theatrefolk. That play being, my play, Somewhere Nowhere.

This month I’m going to talk about re-writes. A play is never fully written in the first draft, it shouldn’t be anyway. It can take 2, 3, 4, sometimes five…. I like to call the first draft the ‘do’ draft. You do it, get it done. It’s the subsequent drafts where the real work happens. They’re called the why drafts. Why does this event happen? Why does this character act this way, say this thing. I read a post recently that described a first draft as the marble and the subsequent drafts as the sculpture the marble is made from. Great image. You can write a pretty good first draft. My first drafts are really far along in the process, I went through Somewhere Nowhere at least three times before I called it an official first draft. But if you’re not taking that extra step, digging in, going further, being specific, asking questions, asking why of your play, then the play’s never going to be as good as it could be.

So in the process of working on Somewhere Nowhere, and getting it past the first draft stage, the next step is to hand the play over to my trusted reader, Craig, who is the first eye on all of my projects. It’s important to have a trusted reader for two reasons: they’re going to be kind and they’re going to be honest. And that is a vital combination when dealing with the fragile minds of writers. Well, it’s not so much fragility; when you’ve put a lot of sweat and tears into something, you want a little positive feedback. Even if it’s just a teeny tiny shred. Having said that, you also want someone to be honest with you, especially when something’s not working. That’s what I trust Craig to do and that’s what he did with Somewhere Nowhere.

So first he was kind – he said the third and forth plays, the play is made up of four one acts, the third and the forth, they were his favourite. Great characters, very engaging. He then outlined two pretty big character issues. He said the second play was telegraphic. A character who turns out to be not very heroic at the end of the play, was seen that way from the get go. Telegraphic is a great word for a writer. It’s not a fun word, it means the end is being seen before we get there. But it tells me right away what’s been seen by an outside eye. And with the first play, Craig felt that the main character was very sombre from beginning of the play to the end of the play. Another excellent critique – characters need to change, they need to grow, and if they’re the same from beginning to end, then there’s none of that. That has to be there.

And that’s what I like about Craig’s comments, there’s always something tangible for me to work with. It’s important for characters to change throughout a play and it’s doubly important that plays not telegraph their endings.

So after that, two out of the four one acts pretty much had to be re-written. Two out of four. For some writers that would be a cause for alarm. How do you re-write without starting from scratch? And that’s why your work has to be really detailed. That’s why I went through three rounds with the play before calling it a first draft. Because, when your work is detailed you never have to start from scratch. You never have to feel adrift with your play. For example, I had already written a very detailed character profile for Echo, that’s the main character from the first play. So I knew her very well, and her personality didn’t change all that much between draft one and two. I just had to focus in on her emotional journey and why I wrote it that way. There’s those “whys” again. Why did I make her so sombre? What happens if I alter her emotional journey, make it a roller coaster, and still stay true to her story. If you know your characters and you know your story, re-writes aren’t scary at all. They take a long time but they’re not scary.

The other thing to is that if you are detailed it’s a lot easier to stick to your guns. If you know your characters and your story, you’re not going to waffle if someone comes along with an opposing opinion.

So, a number of the characters reappear in the four one acts. They change, they grow, they falter. And there’s a couple in the first and the forth, and they break up in the first one act and it is suggested they are going to get back together in the last. Craig wasn’t so keen on it, found it artificial. I disagree. I think they ground the play as a whole, I think it’s necessary, and I think I know these characters well enough that it’s going to work. Regardless it’s something I’m not going to make a final decision until I see it in production. That’s a really good point for writers. The more you know your work the more you can stand up for it. Never change something because someone thinks differently than you.

Seeing the play on it’s feet is going to be the focus of the next few videos. I’m very lucky that Somewhere Nowhere is going to have the opportunity to be workshopped and performed, and in full and in various section. It’s important for playwrights to see and hear their work. That’s where plays live, right? Plays don’t live on the page, they live and breathe on the stage which is very, very, corny, but it’s true. See you next time.

About the author

Lindsay Price