Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Outlines and Writing Sequence

Oh my, I haven’t really blogged much in April, have I?  I’ve been busy. Remember the Script Frenzy challenge to write 100 pages of script in April? Despite taking four days off for Norwescon and catching a killer cold, I managed to complete a stage play.

It’s a first draft. Like all first drafts, it will require review and revision. But it’s done. At 79 pages.

It was an interesting writing experience. I wrote final scene first, because I knew how it had to end. Then I wrote the first scene, because certain things had to be established for the final scene to work. Then I wrote some stuff in the middle, in no particular order. Then I wrote the scene that came before the first scene and then the scene that came after the final scene.

A lot of writers start with outlines. Obviously, I’m not one of them. But I had created such a cluster that I had to impose order on it. So, rather than outline what I needed to write, I went back and outlined what I had already written (which, incidentally, told me what I still needed to write).

What I  learned from the exercise was that my story had three distinct problems arising from the order of the scenes.

The first was sequence.  Characters cannot act on information before they receive it and problems cannot be resolved before they occur. This was the most obvious problem.

A little more subtle was the issue of timing.  In one case, I had a character told she could not return to work until she had solved a certain problem. At the start of the very next scene, she returned to work with a clever solution. It was in the right sequence, but it happened too fast. It just doesn’t seem like much of a problem when the audience only experiences five minutes of real time before it gets resolved.

And finally, there was the problem of flow – how one scene proceeds into the next.  It’s easy to cut between scenes on the stage with a blackout or a curtain, but cutting from a pair of characters on one set to the same pair of characters on the same set may not flow as well as other transitions.

This is part of the fun of working in different formats. All of these lessons can apply to the construction of any type of story, but they were easy to see while I was writing for the stage.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Clever Word Avoidance Strategy

Short blog because I’m already behind on Script Frenzy.  The title of my play has changed, by the way.  I kept looking at The Souls Academy and thinking “Souls” looked like it wanted to be possessive, when the original intent was for it to be plural.  The current working title, still subject to change, is The Apocalypse According to Saint Michelle of the Coffee Shop.

Today’s writing lesson is in how not to be trite.  Or maybe it’s about word choice.  I’m writing a play about religious themes, but I don’t want to talk directly about things like “the healing power of love" because frankly it will make the audience wince. 

So I am actively avoiding certain words.  For “love,” for example, I’m talking about understanding and kindness. It’s less ambiguous anyway.  And, like with the sonnets I discussed a few blogs back, it forces me to expand my vocabulary.

Another trick I’m using is hiding key words amongst words of lesser importance.  Forgiveness is a major theme of the play – more so than love, actually.  So I don’t want to beat the audience over the head with it, especially early on.  So instead of saying “you need to forgive him,” I say things like “forget him, forgive him, or whatever you need to move past him…” The concept is still in there, but it is far less obtrusive.

And yes, authors worry about stuff like this all the time. Believe it or not, it’s part of the fun.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Staging the Next April Project

It’s April 1st as i write this.  In addition to being April Fool’s Day, it’s the start of Script Frenzy, the script writing challenge from the wacky folks that brought you Nanowrimo.

I wasn’t going to do the Frenzy this year, but then I remembered an idea for the ending of a play that I’ve had in my head for several years.

I’m going to have to start with the ending and write backwards.  (Back…words?)  Wish me luck.

I’m also going to need to figure out where the play is set.  I have action and characters, but no backdrop.  This is important for stage plays – every change in location requires a set change, which requires the theater to spend time and money.

Many modern plays revel in set changes – the elaborate sets and fancy changes are part of the spectacle.  And also part of the ticket price.

And on the other end of the spectacle spectrum, there is bare stage.  Shakespeare is largely written for the bare stage – the actors come in and simply announce where they are and the audience goes with it.  My, the Forest of Arden is lovely this time of year.  (Amusingly, A Chorus Line, famous for its big musical production numbers, is also written for bare stage.)

So I’m going to start writing now.  My work is tentatively entitled The Souls Academy: A Blasphemy in Two Acts.  I don’t really know yet if it will really be two acts.

But I’m fairly certain about the blasphemy part.