Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dilemma #1

I am facing my first big dilemma with this new rewrite, and I haven't even written a word of it yet:

I don't know where to start the play.

Every play has an "inciting incident", or the thing that begins the action, that triggers the series of events we are about to see unfold.  (Hamlet's father's death, or the moment when Romeo and Juliet's eyes meet at the ball, for example).  Sometimes inciting incidents happen before the play starts (Hamlet) or at the beginning of the play (Romeo and Juliet).  I can't decide which mine should be.

My inciting incident is the death of Annette (Frank's wife, Vivian's mom).  It is her death that unravels the status quo and fundamentally changes the relationship between Frank and Vivian.  In the previous drafts, I have started the play when she is still alive, and she dies at the end of the first scene.  This does several things for me: 1) it allows us to meet her while she is alive; 2) it shows what her relationship with Frank was like; and 3) it allows us to see a sweeter and more human side of Frank than we usually see with him and Vivian. 

But there is a fundamental problem with both versions of the first scenes I have written -- nothing happens in them, except her death.  Which isn't really an "event" in the dramatic sense.  It is something that happens, but it is not the resolution or escalation of a conflict currently happening on stage -- it is a random occurrence, not something that is driven by the characters' choices.  So the opening scene is little more than filler, than exposition setting up who these characters are and what their relationships are like.  To be compelling dramatically, that information needs to come out in the course of CONFLICT, not just in the course of daily speech.

So I have two choices.  Either (A) figure out how to make the first scene dramatic (give it a conflict and an event other than Annette's death), or (B) start the play at Annette's funeral.  I think my instincts are telling me to start it at the funeral.  Someone at some point told me a playwriting rule: if you are debating about cutting it, cut it.  I guess I just told myself what I need to do. 
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