Since I’m working on a new play this month, each Tuesday for the next four weeks will feature an inside look at my process. Not quite as intense as the 30 days of writing project, but hopefully interesting all the same.
Step One. The Notebook.
There’s really nothing like a fresh notebook. Clean white pages. No mistakes. No wrong turns. Nothing scratched out. Nothing but possibility. It just makes a girl swoon. Sometimes, I think I made paper in another life. And I loved it. Paper has THAT much of a weird affect on me.
Swayed by a discount and lots of pretty white pages, I bought a huge spiral bound notebook this summer in Atlanta. It’s rather unweildly and very un-travel friendly so I haven’t used it yet. But it’s perfect for this project. Because this play is a commission rather than something out of my own brain, it’s going to take a lot of on the page work. I’m going to need a big book.
What is paper work? It’s pretty basic. I sit with pen and paper and my laptop. The lap top’s for research – really is there anything you can’t find on the internet these days? I research my theme: definitions of words, different variations of words, phrases, newspaper headlines, pictures, on and on. Any time the research sparks something, it goes in the book, where I riff on the spark.
The ideal process is that the spark becomes an idea, which becomes a character, which becomes dialogue. Doesn’t always work (hence the need for lots of pages) but it’s a process that works for me when I’m starting at ground zero. It’s my favourite stage. Everything is right, nothing is wrong, there are no plot holes, no under developed characters. Pure unadulterated creativity.
So here’s an example. I’m research on the concept of odd. What is odd? What makes odd different that weird? What about freak? Freak is too harsh, this has to be a bright, light comedy. Stories of the odd, odd jobs, odd phrases, odd fears (oooh I have an unfinished two-hander on that one) odd numbers, something odd that no one can see, odd socks – ah. A spark. The odd sock phenomenon. The confrontation with a dryer. There’s a character and a conflict, something everyone can relate to, lots of comedic potential. Very appropriate for the situation. Bingo.
Round and round the page.
Not every idea makes it all the way through the paper work process. Sometimes you start writing and what comes out on the page just makes you go hmmmmmmm. It’s just a little off. There’s a fine line between writing that is a dud, and writing that needs a different approach. You have to decide whether to go round the page and have another go or to abandon ship. I had to make that decision with the dryer confrontation.
In the first go round the character was confrontational. Facing the dryer head on:
“I have had enough. This is the final straw, mr heat monster. You can eat my argyles, my anklet cuff, my bobby, my now show, my slochine and my sport. You can even eat my cashmere crews. But this, this I am not going to take lying down. You better know, that I know, and I got your number bucko – I am on to you.”
So I’m writing, and I keep writing, (always keep writing, keep that pen moving) and I’m hating it but I keep writing (cause day one is not the day to decide whether something sucks or not) so I keep going till I’m absolutely sure. Till I can’t take the off-ness anymore.
The problem is that a confrontation is a confrontation. That’s it. It’s a one note emotional state. A character needs to grow to confrontation, not start at confrontation. And confrontation, while fulfilling the conflict, isn’t all that funny.
So. Dud or new direction? It’s such a familiar situation, and so suitable I decide to take another shot. Turn to a new page, no mistakes. Start again.
This time I take an opposite approach. The dryer has all the power still but this time the character is afraid to confront the dryer over the missing socks. I also played with making it a conversation:
A: You gotta stand strong.
B: I’m strong.
A: You’re spaghetti.
B: Spaghetti can be strong.
A: Look at you! Your knees are shaking.
B: They are not.
A: You got jello knees.
B: Jello can be strong.
A: What jello are you eating?
B: I”m ready. I’m ready. I’m ready. I’m not ready.
A: Stand strong Jeannie!
B: I can’t. I don’t need matching socks. I don’t. I’ll be the quirky girl who wears odd socks. It’s ok. Really.
That’s a better starting point. It gives the dryer more of a personality. Fear can grow to strength. There’s growth here – will character B be able to stand up to the dryer? How will she address the conflict? How far will she go to run away from the conflict?
Better and better. At this stage, when there’s the promise of an idea and the characters start to emerge it’s like a radio that’s just out of range. You can sort of hear the music if you strain, and the static fades in and out. What you want is there, it’s just not clear yet. The dialogue is there, just out of range.
‘Last week, I saw the dyer move….’
That’s interesting. Very interesting. I can’t wait to see what happens next.