Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Skip... skip... skip....

Skip skip skip, like a broken record, goes my play.... 

That expression is perhaps less meaningful now than it was 30 years ago when we all had records.  (I can’t possibly be old enough to utter the phrase “30 years ago”, can I?)  But like a scratched record, I seem to be stuck at one point in the middle of my first scene -- I keep going back over it again and again, trying to get it right. It's not that I am trying to figure out what happens - I know that - but I'm trying to figure out exactly how it happens.   How to get the lines right, to get across the right amount of information without it feeling like exposition, how to make the lines feel natural and honest and compelling.  I know I should just move on - skip to the next song as it were - and fix it later, but every time I launch Final Draft and I read what I've read so I can continue from there, I get stuck in the same spot, editing. It's like a scab you can't stop picking or an itch you can't stop scratching even though you know you should leave it alone. 

(For the record - no pun intended - for those of you who might be feeling anxious that I am only on the first scene with only 40 days to go: I have actually written the second scene already.  But you’re not wrong that I have a lot of work to do, and fast).

The irony is that I know the events of the scene are right.  I am confident - ecstatically so - that I have figured out a strong beginning of my play.  In only 2 and 1/2 pages, I have established what the world is, who the main characters are, what the major conflict is and how desperately high the stakes are. But the exact words the characters are using, who says exactly what when, hasn’t quite fallen into place.

This is where morning pages can really prove their worth.  I was journaling about this, trying to figure out why I’m stuck and how to fix it.  I thought about a writing teacher I had last summer at ESPA, Sheri Wilner, and tried to remember what some of her methods were for getting through a scene.  I was about to go back and look at some of my notes from her class when I remembered one of her tricks: figure out the emotional need of each character for the scene, the need behind the literal thing they say they want.  Things like I want to be respected, I want to be loved, I want to feel safe, I want to punish, I want to save, etc.  Write these at the top of the page and make sure each character is really going after that thing with each of their lines.

Upon remembering this, I wrote down what the emotional need for each character is in the scene (to protect, to be respected, to be safe, to be acknowledged).  It resonated so deeply in my gut that I am quite confident that when I approach the scene from this angle, it will come together.  Let’s hope I’m right -- I’ll keep you posted!

In the meantime, if you’re in NYC and free on Friday the 27th at 3pm, I’m acting in a reading of The Carpetbagger’s Children by Horton Foote at Primary Stages.  It’s a beautiful play, and it’s free!  Details and reservations here.
blog comments powered by Disqus