I've just completed a rough first draft of a full length play and I'd love some feedback.
It's called No Love.
Here's a logline:
A misanthropic college student obsessed with movies and death deals with the destruction of his family, friends, and romantic relationships by putting himself in the shoes of B movie protagonists, but things start to fall apart even further when he can no longer differentiate reality and fantasy.
If anyone would like to read the full 107 page first draft, please let me know.
Keep in mind it's still pretty rough, there are some problem areas I have identified and rereading I caught some typos I haven't fixed yet. I would love to get another pair of eyes on this thing so I can get it where it needs to be.
Have you gotten some of your actor friends together to read it out loud to you?
Some tips for this are be sure you are in the role of listener - so have enough actors to fill the roles. People can play multiple roles (whether or not they would actually be doubled in a production), it's just best to cast different people as characters that will be talking to each other.
Provide snacks for afterward. Avoid crunchy or throat clogging foods (like cheese) during the reading itself.
Provide liquid, especially water, in case anyone needs a little something for their throat if they are speaking a lot.
Prepare a handful of questions to ask afterward like:
Who's story do you think it is? Why do you think that?
What problem do you think they were trying to solve/avoid/make in the beginning?
Did your understanding of that problem change at some point during the play? When? What made you think that?
While you are asking, try to avoid answering these questions yourself until you've heard from folks. If you start explaining things too soon, then you will miss an opportunity to learn how a new observer understood, or did not understand, your play.
And - let us know how it goes.
Congratulations on finishing a play. Many people never get it down on paper - so you're already ahead.
There's nothing I can add to that. I wish I had a Kato when I was first starting out. I was using an old manual Underwood then and every day I found myself covered with White Out. It took me many years to teach myself what little I know now of the craft.
Hey, Kato! I'm no longer a playwright. Well, for a while anyway. 3/4 through my first (completed) novel. This time I am actually writing with $$$ on my mind. A new experience; money. ~Edd
Michael, I have one thing to add to what Kato said. Do NOT start making changes because others suggested them. Listen to your gut as well as those kind folks who will read NO LOVE. It will only be you who will take the accolades or the blame. The play will have your name on it. The best to you and your writing adventure. ~Edd
P.S. Michael, have you worked on screenplays, as well? Your use of "log line" threw me. I guess I've been secluded in my cabin in the woods writing my anti-Capitalism screed for far too long.
Firstly, pay attention to what edd and Kato have to say.
I really loved this. Read it straight through. After morning coffee. Lots of fun, with a hint of darkness. And it makes me want to see more, which is what ten pages should do.
By the way, just to assure you, there are enough Public Domain Black and White B movies out there. Hollywood knocked them out like crazy in all genres. You will not have trouble finding them!
Your introductory description is terrific!!!! And the swiftness of scene changes your set description allows tickles the imagination of the reader, and then to see how you use it in the first ten pages is wonderful.
In ten pages the tone is set for the family dynamics as well.
Dog, Sparky is a great touch. Looking forward to how the dog will be used. Sparky would be a great off-stage character throughout! Doesn’t have to be, but I am just musing to myself. In a brief first scene you immediately set-up terrific family dysfunction!!!!! You prepare us for the ride! Sparky is a great off-stage character.
Love how mom and grand mom smoke.
Love that his bed is gone.
Relationship between brothers is established in just a few words and actions!
Which is kind of what a lot of brothers do.
NOTE: If you are talking about using for inspiration old Black and White Western “B Movies” (1930’s ‘40’s and 50’s) I would make one note. When you have the Western characters swear, it is out of the tone of the B movies of the those Westerns movies and Detective and Cop and Robber movies and Suspense movies of that era. Since they could not swear because of the censors, the writers had to be inventive and come up with more colorful metaphors.
Use of “faggots” and “fuckers” and “son of a bitch” is out of tone with B Movies. The movie censors of the era never would have allowed allow it. I would eliminate the swearing around the campfire. They would use metaphors like, “mangy polecat” or “slitherin rattlesnake.” (You can have fun make them up on your own!) But to me the out-of-genre cursing kind of lowers the level of your story for that era There is a time and place for it, yes, but if you are talking “black and white movies” it just did not happen.
Yes, you can use them. It is your play. But, again, historically it just did not happen. You already have the contemporary characters using them, and god knows they are used enough in day to day conversation!!!!
You could give a couple of the Western characters some more inventive names, like names they might have “earned” from their reputation “out on the trail.” Names like “Slim” or or “Dakota Kid”, etc. They will be much more colorful and memorable. You don’t have to do all of them, just maybe two of the several to add to the tone of B Movies.
I do not know enough of your play, so if these notes do not fit, forget them. Again, they are just suggestions from what I have seen so far.
Michael Thompson, I read the excerpt and I like it very much. I'm not sure how I feel about the profanity either, though I think it may work if you establish it is a corruption enacted by Joe-- the poisoning of old-style film by contemporary sensibilities. If you do choose to take that route, it's up to you. Really.
Thanks for reading, everyone! I apologize for not responding in a more timely manner, I've just finished the semester and was on vacation.
Thank you. I've been attempting to organize a reading but it's proven difficult to nail everyone down. I figure I need 5 males, 3 females, and someone to read stage directions to fill all the parts. Hopefully something will come together soon.
Yes, I started out writing screenplays in high school and that's still what I want to do most. I've never actually been able to get myself to finish a feature, though, so maybe I'm more attuned to hammering out plays. Thanks a lot.
in media res,
Thanks for your thoughts. I'm glad you like the dog, it does end up playing a big(ish) part later on. Although I've changed her name to Sassy now. In regards to the language: I feel like the best way to describe why I included it is that I wanted to kind of make the scenes more "contemporary" in a sense. Like, the movie scenes are shown as Joe sees them and applies them to his own life, so the are filtered through the way he and the people around him speak. You make a good point, though, and I'm very familiar with the Hayes Code days in old Hollywood. I will make a not of this and see how things sound if I ever get a reading done.
The only real change from the first 2 scenes posted above is a reduction of the amount of Lawmen in Scene 2 from 4 to only 2, and the opening descriptive page has changed considerably.
Thank you all so much! Please let me know what you think.
EDIT: I should also note that there are 3 film noir scenes in the play. I'm still working on establishing my own "film noiry" writing style in these scenes, so for now a lot of the dialogue in 2 of them is just kind of placeholder stuff, with several lines and character names ripped straight from the films that inspired the scenes (Out of the Past and Double Indemnity for the curious). The middle film noir scene is all original save a few homages and hopefully the second draft will get the other 2 looking that way as well.
I went back and picked up from where I left off. I Read up to page 35 at the scene break.
Pretty funny stuff. I seldom laugh out loud when I read, but I did several times. And they are not one-liners. They are the characters talking.
The dialogue skips along, and then you hit us with something even funnier. You take the time to let your characters speak. Young people searching.
You certainly aren't worried about being "politically correct!" That's a great thing today, as everyone is so damn "tetchy" and overly sensitive about things. You are not afraid to let the characters say what they want.
The young characters are so wonderfully awful and funny...but charming in their naivete and youth! And despite the humor there is a tinge of darkness lingering underneath.
I don't know where it is going, but I am enjoying the ride so far.
I like to preface any critique to someone who is new to me with “Everything I say is horseshit.” So what you can like what you like. And what you do not like you can say is horseshit and I will heartily agree with you! It is YOUR play, and don’t ever forget that. What you can use…use…what you can’t…is horseshit.
This is a comic but brutal, hard, violent, farcical dsyfunctional look at a group of family and friends, male and female…and canine. And it is as hilarious as much as it is sometimes deeply disturbing. Joe Orton, Sam Shepard and a few others who escape me come to mind. But your play is its own "stamp" and even has more dysfunctional/functioning than some of those plays. And it is very funny! And so not "politically correct."
I admire how you seem to be able to offend everyone! It is a true gift! And you make us laugh at it!
Again, it reminds me of my favorite quote in theatre from Larry Gelbart’s great play based “Sly Ben Johnson’s “Volpone” titled “Sly Fox”: “You can never think too little of any man. There is always less.” People will go out of their way to get what they want even by doing the most despicable things imaginable.
By the way, KEEP THE SWEARING. Now that I have read the whole play, it works throughout. It was a little jarring in the first movie scene, but then I saw how you were using it and it worked for me.
To be succinct: I thought it was wonderful first draft. (But remember, everything I say is horseshit.)
You are not afraid to let your characters say what they mean. They talk. Yes, they actually talk. They do not grunt. And they freely offend without always meaning to offend. It is just who they are.
The interplay of the movie scenes works quite well.
Yes, this is a first draft. But a wonderful first draft. And I can see the influence of screenwriting. But, to me, somehow it all works. You do need editing and cutting, etc. You do need some snipping of the dialogue. But, not gratuitous snipping to “make it shorter.” You could get it down to 95 pages, I think. Sometimes you have another character respond before they need to respond or they respond so obviously you can cut the responding line. Remember, actors can ACT reactions by listening to dialogue, without any verbal response.
Sometimes, just when I think you are done…you make what the characters say even funnier. And there is a wonderful sadness under their humor. As I said, “young people being young people.’
It is funny as hell. Takes one off guard, often disturbingly so. I laughed/giggled/spit-sprayed out loud many, many times. One thing one often has to ask when writing a comedy like this is, “How much lower can the characters go?” You certainly weren’t afraid to do that. And what makes it really funny to me, is so many of your laugh lines are not “Punch Lines.” They are in the middle of a series of lines. You have a wonderful “Twist of phrase” that kept me reading.
I hated every character in the play! BUT I loved hating them if that makes sense to you. They ARE wonderful and sympathetic, don’t get me wrong. But they are stuck in some muck in their lives. And I actually found myself liking them and feeling sympathy for them. That is an accomplishment.
A young, adventurous theatre company could soar doing this play…IF they do it well. Or they could screw it up. This needs a mature approach to theatre. I do not mean mature in age years, but mature in the approach to the play. Lots of young theatre companies have lots of energy, but not the nuance. I see all the parts as being fun for an actor to play. Which is attractive.
So, there you go. One person's opinion. Good luck.
Mind you, plays like this are not my usual cup of tea. However, I was pleased to read it.
Thanks a lot for your notes! I'm glad you enjoyed the play, and you've given me some really helpful stuff. I finally got a small reading together which also gave me some great notes. I wrote this because my academic advisor offered to make it part of my university's season once it got in shape (actually, a student written play is part of the upcoming season as well so I'm feeling pretty good about that deal) but he has yet to really get back to me with his thoughts. I'm going to start my second draft regardless of that, though, because I really think once this gets good enough it could get picked up by a real theatre company.
I really appreciate your encouragement and feedback, it means a lot. I do have one question, though: I'm considering changing the final scene to more fully embrace the "no love" themes, and get rid of the reconciliation there. What would you think if it ended on a complete down note?
RE: the ending. I would not describe the current ending of your play in ANY way as "an Upper!"
The final scene was quite touching. And painful. Apologies about betrayal and misunderstandings can be just - and even more painful and electrifying than - the betrayal or offense. An acceptance of rapprochement/reconciliation does not mean the suffering is over by any means. And the simple, final word uttered by JOE packed a lot of wallop to me.
Just try playing around with your ideas. This is a first draft…and a very good one.
RE: Happy Endings: The phrase, "Always leave them smiling" is a bunch of B.S.
The most memorable productions of plays I have ever seen…the ones that linger…that haunt…are the ones that have devastated me:
That Championship Season, All My Sons, Torch Song Trilogy, Little Foxes, A Streetcar Named Desire , Death Of A Salesman, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, A Delicate Balance (Shout out to edd on that one!) Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Glass Menagerie, Philadelphia, Here I Come, Juno and the Paycock, The Caretaker, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Our Town, Everything I ever saw created by Spalding Gray, everything I ever saw by August Wilson. And, of course, many others.
I love great comedies. Even some mediocre ones can be fun when well-performed.
But, there is nothing more insufferable than a tragedy poorly performed. It would be like listening to a piano concerto with only 70 working keys! That would be a great type of eternal kind of hell for a nasty Theatre Critic!
To me, your play has a Tragi-Comedy tone to it. Your play is as sad as it is funny and at times hilarious and crushing.
With all that said, again, try different things and see how you feel about it.
Thanks for your thoughts. With your input, that of my actor friends, and some hard thought of my own, I may have finally found a way to get the ending the way I want it (a nice blend of a broken friendship and an even crazier embrace of the violence and nihilism throughout).
Really, thank you so much for taking the time to read "No Love." I will most definitely post the next draft when it's finished.