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The Playwrights Forum > The Art & Craft of Writing > The Playwrights' Gym - Re-writes > Planning/plotting?

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Planning/plotting?  Rating:  Rating
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 Posted: Fri Feb 2nd, 2007 11:43 am
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theatralite
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Mana: 
Planning/plotting problems? Well long ago I gave up writing synopses and such.
Why? Because primarily I found that in trying to write up and flesh out my carefully worked out plot that what I finished up with was something sterile and just plain boring. The creative spark, if there ever was one, had gone out.
Secondly, because when I talked to successful writers I found that it was often a case of do as I say rather than do what I do. Many writers admit albeit reluctantly to just putting a couple of characters on the page and letting them work out the story.
Most of the time, though not all the time, it seems to work out pretty well. The only proviso appears to be that you must still be prepared to revise, revise and then revise in rehearsal, and be prepared for the possible necessary re-write when things don't work out in performance.

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 Posted: Fri Feb 2nd, 2007 07:51 pm
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in media res
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Whatever works!

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 Posted: Fri Feb 2nd, 2007 08:20 pm
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Proboscisbunny
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I took a workshop at Primary Stages to help me write my first full-length. When I registered I was told I'd need an outline and I FREAKED out! I've never written an outline (since middle school, at least) and I don't use them to write my short plays...I just sit down and write them...

So I filled about 4 notebooks with ideas and then, as it turned out, I didn't have to do an outline...but I had to answer some simple questions...easy, since I'd filled 4 notebooks already.

I never knew exactly what I wanted or what the play needed...I only had a few "plot points" figured out. So I started writing...the first 10 pages took me 7 hours! But after that I knew what the next few scenes needed/wanted to be....and after I wrote those the next few scenes would come to me...and so on.

In 2 1/2 weeks I had my first draft...since then I've added 2 scenes and changed one. And, of course, fine tuning dialogue etc... Writing is rewriting...right? Write?

"Whatever works!" Well put...

Vanessa

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 Posted: Sat Feb 3rd, 2007 01:51 am
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Limerick
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I'd agree with the whatever works sentiment.  I never did the outline things myself, but then again I end up writing myself straight into a wall more often than not.  An old English professor always advised me never to talk about something before it was written, or some of the energy would die off.  Not quite the same idea, but I think laying everything out can turn out a bit vanilla.

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 Posted: Fri Feb 9th, 2007 08:24 pm
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Swann1719
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I wrote my first six plays without outlining a thing.  Then I tried my first full length.

Let me back up.  I like Bunny freaked out the first time I faced the prospect of outlining.  Actually, when I was eight years old and was first acquainted with the concept, I stayed home sick from school the next day.  I was horrified that the magic of language could be reduced to this mathematical formula.

So for the first three  years I spent on the play, I didn't outline.  But it wasn't working.  Jack from this forum was incredibly encouraging about outlining, organising, plotting - timelines, spreadsheets.  

Once I outlined, I finished it in about five months.  I found it sharpened my thought about these characters, how they move through time, the concrete building blocks of story.

Music is magic too but Bach's fugues can be tracked by mathematical forumla. 

So outline! Try it!  What do you have to lose? 

Absolutely the best, best book about outlining any kind of story, fictional or nonfictional is Jon Franklin's Craft Secrets of Dramatic NonFiction.  So worth reading!

Good luck!

Swann

 

 

 

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 Posted: Mon Mar 3rd, 2008 02:37 am
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Will Kemp
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I outlined Hamlet and discovered that Shakespeare followed a scenario or plan of organization.  He rotated groups of actors.  One group is  the ghost group. Another group  is the Claudius group.  Another group is the Hamlet group. Then there is the Polonius group.  These groups rotate regularly, abcd, abcd, abc etc.  Members  of the different groups begin to  migrate between groups and eventually the groups merge as the conflict increases.

It is like following  a lot of different suspenseful plots at one time.  The suspense is greatly increased because the groups rotate, and you have to wait to find out what happened to one group wnile another group is onstage.

This type of organization is convenient for the actors.  However, the organization results from content, and this is what is most fascinating to me.  When you outline these groups and their actions, you discover that there is a direct response, like tennis, betwen the groups.  For example, when the ghost group appears, the guys say, "We have to go tell Hamlet about this ghost."  Then, the next time you see the ghost group onstage, the guys are coming up to Hamlet saying, "Hey, we saw your father's ghost.."  For every decision, there is an action.  For every action there is a reaction, for every stimulus a response and counter-response etc. This pattern of response is just as clear as can be, when you outline Shakespeare's plays.  [Try outlining  King Lear.]

The groups are also organized according to protagonist and antagonist.  Hamlet is a direct antagonist to Claudius and vice versa.  The other characters are on one side or another, and in some cases, they are ambivalent [Gertrude].  So he organized characters according to whether they work for or against the protagonist.

    I think that once Shakespeare found a main conflict between characters, he found a story to fit that conflict.  Then he developed  the plot using analogies, like an actor acts, finding analogies between his personal life and the life of his characters.  There are layers of analogies in his plays, but this is something you may not be aware of unless you read his sources. The plot of Hamlet is chock full of analogies with stories of Alexander, for ex.  The story of Ophelia trying to entrap Hamlet is analogous to a story about a woman employed to entrap Alexander [I think that was in one of Plutarch's lesser read sources], and the duplicitous woman has yet a third  parallel in the duplicitous woman in the Mousetrap story:  It's like Shakespeare is drilling the character into your head three times. [Actually, this is what one of my professors called "framing" or "objectifying" the plot.  He said greed gods were included in greek plays to "objectify" the meaning of the play and make it universal.

  Shakespeare  frequently "frames" his main  plot is by dropping the name of a myth into the play.  It's  important when he does mention a myth,  because that myth tells you the main action of the play that he used to organize the plot material under.  In Hamlet, the myth he drops is Pyrhus.  Hamlet is like Pyrhus is like Alexander, because all three men got revenge  for the murders of their fathers.   The myth framing the plot is revenging the death of the father. 

I analyzed other plays by Shakespeare and many  plays by the Greeks,  so  I find this topic of "outlining" to be of great interest..  I could talk about this for hours.  I did these analyses precisely because I was trying to figure out what kind of system the great writers used.  I figured they had to have a system in order to produce plays as regularly as a journalist grinds out news stories.  Then after doing the outlines,  I tried writing plays myself and observing myself doing it the whole time, in order to clarify in my own mind what I was doing.  So I took a year off from work and wrote  2 one-act plays, scenarios for several musicals, and  complete drafts of two long plays plus a partial draft of a third play.  While I was writing, I kept notes about what worked and what didn't work for me.

Outlining definitely works for me, but I would not call it outlining.  I would call it a scenario of the dramatic action between characters.

What worked for me was first, to identify  two  people who are strongly antagonistic to each other.  Then it helped me  to do lots of monologues by these people in order to find their full voices.  But I didn't use the monologues in the play. . .

Plus I had to have a plot, some conflict that is forcing these people to confront each other.  Then I had to keep forcing these people TO confront each other.  It is not normal for people to confront each other.  Most people avoid confrontation or hint at it. If you want a real overt conflict, however, you have to force your characters to attack each other.  It's kinda fun, like having pit bulls around.

 It also definitely helped me to try to rotate the antagonist's group with the protagonist's group, sort of  like Shakespeare did. HOWEVER, my groups are real real small, because I'm trying to write a modern play that will have  a small cast.  The small cast requirement makes it difficult to write a real "Shakespearean" style play with large groups rotating on stage, with crowd scenes, and army scenes, clown scenes, burlesque scenes and subplots, Fortinbras invading the castle etc.  Nevertheless, it still helps me to try rotating antagonists and dividing those scenes with scenes by a couple other people.

I tried to write  a Shakespearean crowd scene once, though,  by having the crowd offstage demonstrating,  and shouting onstage through a bullhorn [at a bunch of evil lawyers closeted in a courthouse room.].

I know  that there are playwrights today who  are writing plays without protagonists and antagonists, but I personally don't like the plays I've seen.  I've seen some that are sort of like documentaries. Why not get a camera and do a documentary?  To me, drama is about the resolution of a conflict.  I don't want to write a play that is not about conflict. 

And none of what I just said prohibits a writer from experimenting, free-associating, just letting the characters interact and inspire the direction of the play.  It's amazing what the subconscious mind will come up with, so you sure don't want to inhibit it. However, you still have to organize the material you produce from those trance-like uninhibited states of mind.  That part is fun, and easier than organizing the material. To me, the biggest challenge is, how DO you outline a play?

 

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 Posted: Mon Mar 3rd, 2008 03:30 am
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Edd
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VERY interesting post, Will Kemp.

As in media res said, "Whatever works."  It always interests me to hear how other playwrights work.

I tend to channel.  Seriously.  You described it perfectly when you said,
"It's amazing what the subconscious mind will come up with, so you sure don't want to inhibit it. However, you still have to organize the material you produce from those trance-like uninhibited states of mind."   You described my method to a T.  I generally start with a title.  I collect potential titles.  Then I start with a sentence of dialogue, however nonsensical, and just continue until a character appears and picks up the thread.  If I knew beforehand where the play was going, or even what it was going to be about, I'd lose all interest and never write it.  I don't playwrite so much as I edit and rewrite.  The real writing is done by the characters themselves.  That is one reason why I could never seriously critique another's play.  I don't know how to write a play.  I don't write them--the characters do--I just do the rewrites, and rewrites--and rewrites.  In fact, I cannot read a single play of mine after declaring it finished without rewriting it yet again.  I am merciless and brutal with my work. When I change or edit a single sentence, it ripples through the entire script and once again I must rewrite.  The passion of the journey is the adventure that keeps me getting out of bed every morning and walking into my day.

~Edd

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 Posted: Mon Mar 3rd, 2008 03:10 pm
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Basso
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Swann said:

"Music is magic too but Bach's fugues can be tracked by mathematical formula."

I know exactly what you mean, but this is not quite true. Music is a language, and although it has it's rules, etc, it also is full of nuance. Bach used a formula, in that he understood musical punctuation, yet his voice transcends this punctuation, an intangible if you will, that defies tracking of any sort. Heinrich Schenker developed a method of mathematically tracking the music of Bach and other composers, but that method, although well thought out and insightful, is nevertheless, like trying to fit a work in 4/4 time into 7/8...a bit awkward at the end of the day.  Having said that, your premise of a formula being efficacious toward playwrighting is a solid one, and for many a tried and true method. I have read of composers who agonized over practically every note, while others, such as Donizetti would write entire operas, fully scored, in two weeks. Rossini would often write the overtures to his operas the day of their first performance, giving all and sundry fits. He wasn't using any kind of template, and yet his overtures are of some renown. I'm not sure about Puff Daddy, though. ;) 

 

Will Kemp said:

  "I think that once Shakespeare found a main conflict between characters, he found a story to fit that conflict.  Then he developed  the plot using analogies, like an actor acts, finding analogies between his personal life and the life of his characters.  There are layers of analogies in his plays, but this is something you may not be aware of unless you read his sources."

I'm not sure I accept this premise. I presume, Shakespeare, like any other playwright had ideas occur to him on all kinds of matters and that he wrote about these ideas. The conflict arose out of the story itself, and as he was a skilled observer of our human condition, he was able to instill in to his characters the beautiful ticks that make up our species.  It seems entirely too cumbersome that someone would develop characters and then decide on a plot. Perhaps I have misunderstood you. Further, these analogies you speak of would have been part of his knowledge bank, and many would have sprung from that voice that coalesces all information and then spits them back out, in a somewhat unconscious way. If writing were like plotting the human genome then there would be little time left for the very important discipline of drinking, a must for any playwright, I'm sure. :D

Now, before you hang me, Greta, it is obvious you have done a great deal of study about all this playwriting stuff, and I found it fascinating. No, I'm not being facetious. I am far too lazy to ever do any of the kind of plotting and graphing that you have done, and so, I am sure I will end up on the heap of the unheralded.

Edd said:

The real writing is done by the characters themselves.  That is one reason why I could never seriously critique another's play.  I don't know how to write a play.  I don't write them--the characters do--I just do the rewrites.  The journey is the adventure that keeps me getting out of bed every morning.

I love this, Edd. I have done my first critiquing ever on this forum, and I always think to myself, "what the hell do I know?"  We all need some reason to get out of bed, well, depending on whose with us, but to have the tug of an adventure at one's finger tips is awesome, indeed.


Basso

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 Posted: Tue Mar 4th, 2008 08:36 pm
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Will Kemp
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Hey, it worked. I actually got a response from a playwright. I love this site.  I found it after looking for weeks for other playwrights online.  I felt like I was screaming alone in the desert for another playwright to talk to.  I  put a post on here under Will Kempe’s name to get attention, out of desperation. 

   I am not going to disagree with any of you.   Einstein said that non-scientists like to drum up controversy, manufacturing great battles between scientists over their theories.  “But scientists only see a building up, not a tearing down” of each others’ theories,  he said.  Like Einstein, Aristotle never tears another man down.  When he disagrees with another philosopher, he explains how their theory is correct,  but incomplete. 

    I would not criticize your ideas, because who am I to say you are wrong, when we are all created equal in having the same potential to reason [Aristotle]. The creative process is probably the same in all people, but people emphasize the parts of that process which are most important to them.  I think that  playwrights need the qualities of directors, actors and even scene designers.  However, they may have more of one quality than another.  What they are missing seems disproportionately important.

I emphasize my need for controlling content through scenarios and outlines because I have a deficit in my mind of the director’s  quality -- what psychologists call the “executive function” of the mind.  However, somebody like Edd emphasizes the usefulness of  the actor’s quality of channeling, because he already has a wealth of the director’s quality.

    I tried using channeling exclusively to write, but I lacked the director’s capacity to organize that material.  I bet Edd organizes material easily, but if not, he needs to work on that.   I could not organize material at all  until I made a conscious effort to beef up the “director” part of my brain. I begin outlining other people’s plays to try to figure out how they organized the material.

   I think that playwrights need directing and acting skills both, and those skills are like  controlling and channeling. It helps if the playwright is good at visualizing a set design too. I think that good actors are part director and playwright too, and that good directors are part actor and part playwright. Playwrights can learn a lot about writing from directors:  Just check out Dietrich’s classic text on directing.  He takes plays apart and shows you how they fit back together.  And try writing on your feet, like an actor talking. It will give you a great respect for actors.

   Like Swann, I find outlining useful.  I also agree with him that there are similarities between math and the creative process, but I am not sure how useful this knowledge is.  I think you can define a Greek play as a calculus of personality, or in Shakespeare’s case, a calculus of his soul, or in the case of a bad play, as algebra, haha.

I also agree with Basso that music – and by extrapolation, plays – cannot be reduced entirely to math.  If the language of math could produce the language of  music, we wouldn’t need music. There are composers who write music using mathematical formulas, but I’ve never heard any music written that way that I enjoyed.  It has an  elegant sound pattern, like windshield wipers.

   Basso’s comments on composers are interesting.  It sounds like Edd is trying to be Beethoven: Beethoven had a notebook in which he saved themes.  He got up every day and worked systematically  upon these themes until he developed them into whole compositions. After I read about his method, I realized that some composers actually work hard.  I guess I am  too lazy to be a composer.  I write the opening phrase, then I give up when I get to a bridge or the next part of the symphony.

   Basso is right too, that  Shakespeare probably got ideas from plays in lots of ways. But regardless of where he got his ideas, he had to figure out how the protagonist and antagonist were opposed in order to create a plot.  If you look at the original story of Macbeth, it is not yet a plot  because the people in that story are friends.  Shakespeare had to take Macbeth’s friends in that story and turn them against him in order to give him antagonists.  Inventing the protagonist and antagonist is “prior” or necessary to plotting, not in time but in process.

   I think he took the process of establishing the protagonist and antagonist one step further before writing.  I think he decided before he did most of the writing, how his own life was analogous to the roles of the protagonist and antagonist.  One he had figured that out, he could give them his own life-like feelings and thoughts.

    I am trying to use this process myself to create my protagonist and antagonist.  However, I  haven’t been able to create characters with lives analogous to my own.  I have ordinary characters that I hear in my mind and they are voices similar to people I have known.  Some of them are characters who just take on a life of their own, and have their own voices etc.  I don’t feel good  about any of them.  I don’t think they are good enough characters so I keep rewriting their scenes.  [Maybe this is why Tennessee Williams kept rewriting the same scenes over and over. . .searching for an authentic voice for his characters????]

   So what is your real name Basso?  Are you a bass player? You shouldn’t use my real name.  I like the name Will Kempe because I picture him being a deaf-mute actor like myself, somebody who can mime to somebody else’s play, or a comedian who never takes anything seriously.  Also, he was smart:  Will Kempe translated a book on mathematics by Ramus.

 

Footnote:  Ramus was murdered, thrown out a window in France or somewhere by a crowd of religious fanatics because he followed Aristotle and Aristotle was deemed a blasphemer in public opinion during the Restoration.

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 Posted: Wed Mar 5th, 2008 10:42 am
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Martin H
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I don't outline except in my head, but I like to know where anything the length of a full length play is going as I write it (ten minutes are another story, sometimes even up to one acts. It can be great fun winging it if you know the dictates of length aren't going to allow you to get too lost.)  I often (have in the case of my new play FireWatcher's Wages) write the final scene very early in the process so I know precisely where the middle passages are heading and can feel freer improvising within the structure; pretty much always bear it in mind. Mentally at least, I always write at the top of my scripts what Fellini wrote on the sketchy working script of 8 1/2: "Remember this is a comedy."

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 Posted: Wed Mar 5th, 2008 03:25 pm
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Will Kemp
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Does FireWatcher's Wages refer to SIN???"The wages of sin are death?  The wages of sin is death?????" I would like to look at your play.   Sin means a failure to be true to your spiritual nature -  right?  Is your play about sinning as a playwright?? We all have sinned since the coming of Shakespeare, if you ask me, so I am not ashamed to devote half my life to try to figure out how he organized his plays, form and content both. Just remember, we are all clowns on this website  and not serious about life, so we  can afford to waste our lives  in theatre now.

So how do you improvise, Martin?  Do you sit, or do you stand up?  [I'm on this kick about getting other playwrights to try writing on their feet, because it helps  so much with dialogue.]  Or do you lay on your back doing great soliloquies, like Nicole Williamson doing Hamlet????  [I think it was Wms.  who did Hamlet laying down.]

After hearing yours and Edd's  comments, I've decided to let my characters improvise all they want during the "rehearsal".  However, I have found that characters are lazy, and want to sit around nagging and drinking coffe in the green room, or improvising for weeks on end.  At some point, I  tell them, THE REHEARSAL STOPS HERE.  I WILL EDIT YOU.

Like you, I need to know the end.  That  is just as important as an outline.  However, I want  to know the end of each scene too. . .why does the actor enter or exit?  [Stanislavsky said that an actor must know why he is entering or exiting. That means the playwright ought to know too.]

But no big deal:   I also want  to know the scenario, which is  nothing more than a chart of response and counter-response; action and reaction between  actors.  I want to make sure that my characters  are provoking and responding, not just yakking or nagging.  Pinter was a genius at covert interaction -- apparently he noticed that people do not normally attack each other overtly, and wanted to reproduce this on stage.

I notice a pattern of stimulus/response even in the most "natural" plays . . .Tennessee Williams, for ex.   Blanche provokes the hell out of Stanley.  I would have kicked her little powdered butt out of my apartment long before he did.

Also, check out Keith Johnstone's site.  He has a great book that includes a whole section on improvisation for playwrites.  He was Edward Bond's mentor, not that I like Edward Bond.

My dog has to go out and I have 3 scenes laying here that need to be typed into this junky computer. Bye for now. 

 

 

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 Posted: Thu Mar 6th, 2008 12:57 am
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Martin H
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The opening three scenes (short scenes) of Firewatcher's Wages are up in The Playwright's Gym/Feedback, and might answer the question better than I can. Sin, no, it's partly as mundane as the shitty salary the firewatcher (on the alert 24 hours a day for a year now) is paid for sitting and watching for a fire on the mountain in the distance which will signal Queen Clytemnestra that Agamemnon is returning from the Trojan wars, in advance of his ships. (He's a character, known as 'herald', who appears at the beginning of Aeschylus' Agamemnon, and I thought he was worth a play to himself.) Wages have a number of other, metaphorical meanings, but never precisely 'The wages of sin is death'.

I do the bulk of my writing in free moments during courier work, when I'm standing by or on the subway travelling up and down the system with messages of intent from law firms, banks and commercial concerns of all descriptions, in sealed envelopes none of which I'm privy to.  I write sitting, I write standing and I can write in my head while walking but I find if I try to write on paper then it compromises the legibility too much.

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 Posted: Fri Mar 7th, 2008 04:27 am
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Will Kemp
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Good grief Martin, you must have one heck of an imagination to have written a play based on the herald.  I've heard of playwrights writing plays around minor characters like the herald, but I can't imagine it myself.  And heralds actually are qite interesting in the Greek plays.  The herald in The Trojan women is a major antagonist to the women.  He was real important in Cacoyannis' movie film of that play. . .I hated him!

 Oh, yes, I've read that play, where they watch for the fire signal to come, and it finally does. . .  I must read your play, because I am fanatic  about the Greek plays.  I have read all of them, and some of them over and over. . .I think I read The Bacchae about 16 times. [C.K. Williams' translation]. The Agamemnon has one speech by Clytemnaestra that I've read 50 times. .."There is the sea. . ." 

I will go to the gym on my next visit to this website and read your play.  It sounds really intriguing to me. 

By the way, I have written a Greek tragedy, and I will be typing it as soon as I get done typing and revising my other play.  I worked 18 years on it, if you count years of obsession as well as actual work.  I had to write it

You write in SUBWAYS?!!!  No way!  I rode subways in NYC for 5 years.  I couldn't write on them, but I read plays sometimes. 

 

 

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 Posted: Fri Mar 7th, 2008 11:38 am
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IanFraser
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For myself, I never plan a play, and I've no idea of anything beyond:

the opening moments, and the concept that's 'running' already..
the ultimate final 'feelings' that I want the audience to have at the end of it
all.

Thereafter, I just write down what the characters are saying, and I at times
intersperse this back and forth chattering with odd jokes and misunderstandings, to irritate one or another of the characters.

Then I see 'where it wants to go'.

Most of my plays (had about 9 or so professionally staged) are first drafts, no revisions or editing - and usually, they emerge on paper at a rate of about 8 - 10 pages a day. Never written a play that didn't take longer than say a week and a half  to write, in total.
For me play writing is like being stuck in the bathroom, unable to go do other stuff until the current job is done - so I like to get rid of the damn story, get it out of me, so I can move on, as well as treat whatever I've got, as a product to be marketed - and take a read of it, to see what the hell it is..

Currently writing something, for example, which I really thought was just a comedy, and I wanted it to be a comedy, but its 'choosing' to dip into serious drama, so I'm fighting with it back and forth, total tug of war going on between my wants, and the 'story's' own desire to be told in a certain way. So naturally I'm going with it, and hanging on for the ride, watching this unfolding story and wondering what it all means.

Once or twice I've tried 'writing out an outline for a story' - but that kills it dead. I just get completely bored and uninspired and unwilling to re-experience what I've already mapped out in outline.
I seem to work best when I have no idea what the characters are going to say, or what scene is going to appear next..

Apropos of nothing..

someone once won a short play award, with the following entire script.

ACT ONE SCENE ONE

ENTER GODOT.

CURTAIN


Last edited on Fri Mar 7th, 2008 11:39 am by IanFraser

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 Posted: Fri Mar 7th, 2008 11:11 pm
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Will Kemp
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Enter Godot."

"Who, Me?"

Well, I am outnumbered by people who use channeling.  However, nobody has said what they think about my idea that the writer is half channeler or actor, and half director.  I can write on automatic pilot, but I have to consciously edit the material.

I wrote my first play channeling characters, but I wound up with 4 notebooks of material that I had to organize. I threw out 3.

 I could not organize my mess until I made a conscious effort to visualize the set and the scenes.  It helped me to draw pictures, like in a comic book.  However, the most helpful thing was outlining Hamlet:  You can see a plan as simple as tennis:  If A hits a ball, B must hit  it back.  In between B hitting it back, C hits a ball to D, but D does not it it back until B hits it back to A.  This causes a LOT of suspense:  All those plots being juggled.  Then, during recess, you have soliloquies.

 Unlike tennis, a stage game involves doubles, triples.  I don't want  my characters making foul serves, or dogs running onto  the court and making off with the ball.  Therefore, I have started doing a tennis analysis of my plays.  Do I have any balls left in the air? 

if you like to go riding, try this:   Take a Greek play and substitute an analogous scene of your own.  Then ride the script, substituting your lines of dialogue analogous to Sophocles' lines. I did this with  the first scene of Ajax Odysseus is tracking the insane warrior Ajax,and is afraid Ajax will see him..  The goddess says, don't worry, Ajax is insane; he won't hurt you.

I was actually working on a "Greek play" of my own about a reporter going to meet  an insane criminal.   I substituted this woman reporter for Odysseus. I  wound up with really stiff lines, but that's ok.  I wasn't trying to write an actual play this way.  I just wanted a sense of how Sophocles organized his scenes.

This is how you kill 18 years.

I got the idea to ride another playwright's dialogue from Shakespeare. He possibly took the  image in Hamlet of DAWN coming over the horizon like a person   n a russet cloak from Sophocles.  Sophocles wrote an image of NIGHT rising over the Hellespont like Dionysis dancing onstage, like the North Star with the little twinklefoot dancers/stars following.  It is translated different ways, but I picked up the image of the North Star appearing  and the little stars blinking on after.  I forgot which translation it is.  I collect translations of Greek plays -- I  have to compare them to get an idea what they mean. 

You can also ride out a metaphor, or an analogy.  Shakespeare does that all the time. . .If death really is like sleep, perchance we will have bad dreams.  It seems  easy till you try it, and if you do come up with a good metaphor, it  sounds phony, because people don't speak in metaphors much.

I will try to read your plays.  I am in awe of people who CAN channel like you describe. I can't do it that well.    But first I am going to go read The FireWatcher's Wages  in the Gym. 

Arthur just chewed up my checkbook while I was writing you.  He also goes to the ballfield next door and plays shortstop.  This line is a foul ball. 

 

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 Posted: Sat Mar 8th, 2008 01:57 pm
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Proboscisbunny
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I'm glad this thread has come back to life...I chuckle at my first entry, over a year ago.

A new question. Do you know what "kind" of play you're going to write when you sit down? I'm not quite sure I'm asking this right...

My latest play is CCD. It stands for Colony Collapse Disorder, what's supposedly killing the bees. Basically put a farming family needs a beekeeper to come with his bees to save the farm, the beekeeper that comes is an ex-con. The Sheriff, and matriarch of the farming family, doesn't take too kindly to the fact that he's an ex-con. In her zeal to keep him away from her family and county her grandsons almost fall through the cracks and literally fall into a killer bee hive.

My intent was to apply the term "Colony Collapse Disorder" to the plight of the American Family. Most people got it, some didn't...one woman thought the play was a FARCE. Now, this woman is off her cake, I know, so I'm not taking her statement too seriously. But I didn't sit down to write a farce, I sat down to write a play...

Must one always conform to some academic designation of style...or is putting it on the page enough?

Vanessa

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 Posted: Sat Mar 8th, 2008 04:56 pm
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Martin H
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My feeling is the better you know the available styles--which I think is better done by steeping yourself in actual examples on stage and screen etc., than by studying them academically--the more room you have to play with them, mix, match, whatever seems appropriate. Mixed styles are what most appeal to me.  This is Peter Barnes, from the introduction to Barnes Plays One, but I'd be happy enough with it as a personal credo

So what was I trying to do in these plays? I
wanted to write a roller-coaster drama of hairpin bends;
a drama of expertise and ecstasy balanced on a tightrope
between the comic and the tragic with a multi-faceted

fly-like vision where every line was dramatic and every
scene a play in itself; a drama with a language so exact
it could describe what the flame of a candle looked like
after the candle had been blown out and so high-powered

it could fuse telephone wires and have a direct impact
on reality; a drama that made the surreal real, that went
to the limit, then further, with no dead time, but with
the speed of a seismograph recording an earthquake; a
drama of 'The Garden of Earthly Delights' where a lion,

a tinman and a Scarecrow are always looking for a girl
with ruby slippers; a drama glorifying differences,
condemning heirarchies, that would rouse the dead to
fight, always in the forefront of the struggle for the
happiness of all mankind; an anti-boss drama for the
shorn not the shearers.

 It's mainly for the reasons suggested here that I thought a look at the events leading up to the Oresteia, from the point of view of day labourers, poets, philosophers and other people well below the nobility in the social order might be tremendously interesting.

Last edited on Sat Mar 8th, 2008 05:04 pm by Martin H

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Will Kemp
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Hi Vanessa,

   This is a very interesting question:   “Do you know the kind of play you are going to write before you write it?  I had to sleep on it.  It was too tough for Godot to answer.

 

I assume that you and Martin each mean, “Do you know the style of play you are going to write before you write it?” Martin quotes Barnes, suggesting that “style of play” can mean “artist style of play” [dada, cubist, surrealism, etc.]

 

I think it is possible to know in advance that you are going to do a play in a certain artist’s style or in a collage of styles.  Maybe that is what you did, Martin? Now that I know you are interested in different styles, I will go back and look at your play scene again to see if I can recognize the art styles.  I love art and I understand art styles pretty well.  However, I don’t know if I could choose an art style and write a play in that style. You might be able to, but I can’t, and really do not want to.

 

 I personally do not the like the idea of adapting art styles to theatre, because I am afraid that my play would just be a demonstration of that art style, and not a play about people in conflict.  I guess I  could write a cubist play and have a  bunch of women onstage portraying cubist sides of one woman, and this woman could have a confrontation with a man portraying cubist sides of her evil husband.  That might work for me.

 

We like to think that style belongs to an individual.  However, groups have style.  There is a group of cubists, a group of Expressionists, impressionists etc.  There were some German playwrights who wrote Expressionist plays, for ex. Soutine painted characters who look like they ought to be in a Chekhov play – bellhops, little old women, ugly adolescents, servants, pensive old maids, dead chickens.  Sofonisba and Bassanio did paintings that remind me of scenes from Shakespeare.  Sofonisba painted a chess scene that reminds me of Prospero watching the young couple in the Tempest.  She painted a picture of an  elderly servant watching an adorable couple playing chess.  There are two of these paintings, and one is not a good painting.  Bassanio painted a lot of scenes of  a Jew, like the Jew in the Merchant of Venice. You won’t find his paintings on-line, I don’t think.  I found them in an old book.

 

This leads to another interesting question:  Do you know the style you yourself are going to use before you write a play. . .not the style you are going to copy, like cubism, but the style you yourself are going to have?  What is YOUR style?

 

I thought about this all day folks, and since I am trying to copy the Greeks and Shakespeare at the same time [which is an impossibility since you cannot be Euripides and Shakespeare and yourself at the same time – it is an Aristotelian contradiction, because you cannot exist and not exist as the same author at the same time.

 

Truth is what IS.  What IS is me – Barnes’Sheep Shorn ID No. 24 looking for a way to express being a naked sheep like all the other naked sheeps in the herd of copiers.

 

[Not to change the subject but did you know that when Hamlet gets off the ship and sends a letter to Claudius saying  “I am set naked upon your shore” he is saying to Claudius:

1.  “Here I am, your madman”, since insane people were kept naked on ships and deported to a foreign country -- wherever the ship captain could sneak in and land and set the lunatics out to get rid of them.  I guess the captain kept the lunatics  naked so he could  hose them down along with the stinking deck.

2.  “Here I am, your philosopher”, since a philosopher was referred to in the Renaissance as a “naked philosopher”.  [I forget why, but  I have the article somewhere on this.]

 

I don’t think that Hamlet is referring to naked sheep.

 

So what kind of style do I want to have?  Well, instead of Greek or Shakespearean style, I would call it an Aristotelian style. I want to invent my own style involving characters in conflict with themselves or each other – traditional drama pitting people with opposite characteristics against each other and themselves.  [Aristotle called them contrary qualities.]   I don’t like all the non-traditonal  plays  now --  documentaries, message plays, plays proving that quantum physics is right, vagina monologues and penis monologues, foot soliloquies.

  

Aristotle views people as being in terribly dramatic states of conflict between opposite states of being  in themselves and in each other.   He recommends moderation in your character and lifestyle.  .This is similar to the Native American “principle of choice” which views man as having a choice to be or not be a certain way.  According to Indians, people are UNHAPPY when they are caught between two states of being.  If you are too materialistic, you must reimbalance yourself by becoming more spiritual.  If  the character is in conflict, he needs for his medicine wheel to rotate in the other direction.  This is sort of like the humors theory, but better.  The humors theory was popular, simplified version of Aristotelian philosophy.

 

CCD, Colony Collapse Disorder, will occur because white people have created an imbalanced society that is too exploitative of the environment

 

The playwright  has four ways of expressing conflict between opposites, according  to Aristotle, Categories Chapter 10.  The four ways of expressing  opposites in language are:

1.      Privative/possession.  Gloucester is blinded.  A person  possesses sight or suffers a privation of sight.

2.      Contraries [‘to be or not to be; sick or well]

3.      Correlatives [relatives or percentages]  People are relatively compassionate in King Lear.  People are cruel or kind. Cordelia is relatively more compassionate than Regan, for ex.  MacDuff has twice as many soldiers as Macbeth..  The movie Asylum is chock full of relatives.  The insane man in  Asylum becomes relatively more and more violent.  His light kiss to the woman becomes a slap to the woman’s mouth becomes a full fist punch to the woman’s mouth.  The woman is passive, the man  aggressive.  This movie is chock full of relative images:  Windows.  Windows with curtains. Windows broken. No windows.  Windows with bars. 

4.      Affirmative / Negative.  Hamlet could have said, “I think, therefore I am” and Claudius could have stabbed him then and said, “You exist no longer.” Arguments in Shakespeare often begin with Affirmative/Negative, as John Basil points out.

“You thumb your nose at me!!!!!”

“No sir!”

“I say, you DO thumb your nose at me.”   Etc.

 

So what?  Well, I don’t know   (:  )      I  think that being conscious of the ways you express conflict in words can help you edit your play and tweak it for greater effects.

 

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 Posted: Sun Mar 9th, 2008 11:25 pm
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Martin H
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I wasn't thinking  of art styles, as in painting styles. so much as the styles by which linguistic and theatrical expression are conveyed. (There's quite a catalogue of them in Hamlet, which is itself something of a compendium.) Firewatcher's Wages is written dominantly in Homeric or heroic stanzas (seven stresses, no prescribed measure for the number of stressed versus unstressed syllables), a tremendously fluid line since the wider the gaps between syllables the nearer it is to prose conversation; the nearer together the stresses fall, the more impassioned and declamatory it becomes. Some passages are prose, which likewise varies between the conversational/idiomatic and the declamatory. The scenes involving Archilochis each feature an original song, and Heraclitus Firewatcher's wife sings one as well, there are also a couple of song parodies. The dialogue in the scenes between Archilochis and Heraclitus Firewatcher is in Elizabethan iambic pentameter. (H.F. tends to take on the style of whoever he speaks with, but his own natural voice is Homeric hexameter.) A great deal of the characterization and the forward movement of the plot depends on these switches from verbal style to style, and they can't be juggled I wouldn't think by somebody unconscious of them, since their natural tendency if not modulated in their contact with each other would be to fight like cats and dogs.  The trouble with a flat uniform style is that all your characters will tend to be versions of each other, since they all talk alike. Usually the means used to vary the voices (and physical styles) of different characters range within narrower extremes than they seem to be doing in this new one (certainly I've never attempted anything quite like this before) but wherever you find effective characterization you find some polyphonic mix of styles.

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 Posted: Sun Mar 9th, 2008 11:49 pm
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Proboscisbunny
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CCD, Colony Collapse Disorder, will occur because white people have created an imbalanced society that is too exploitative of the environment.

Can't we leave the "white" out of it? ...?  I agree with the rest of the statement.

I think I know what you're talking about. I do believe I have my own "voice". I believe only I can write the play and however the play comes out it is that way because I am the one who made it that way. I like plays that tell us something about the playwright, plays that only they could have written. Something unique, special...

But at what point must one conform that creativity to the audiences expectations of style? Is it so bad to be different? I sure hope not...

Vanessa

 


 

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Will Kemp
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Martin,

  I'm curious where you got this information on meter.  Is there a book on it that you used or you just figured it out?  I read about how the Greek playwrights would use different meters to suggest different moods for  different parts of the Greek plays.  I wished English was a syllabic language like Greek.  I took a semester of Greek in hopes of being able to read enough of a play to get a feel for it.

The Poetics of Aristotle talks some about meters, but I haven't found a good book on the topic yet.  (I haven't looked, to be truthful.)

One translator  of Greek plays who tries to get the feel of Greek meters is C.K. Williams.

  You know a lot about meter!  I don't know much, but I just found some interesting information about meter in John Basil's new book on embedded acting cues in Shakespeare.  He gets me really interested in using meter to suggest character, which I understand is what you are trying to do.  You are right, that all your characters tend to sound like each other if you don't give them individual styles of speech.  [I think that is called "ventriloquism" by critics.]  I didn't know you could do so much with meter in English as you do. I guess I am going to have to download your play and study it more, because I really need to understand this.

You said you liked Barnes' credo, and Barnes does mention art styles, along with other styles.  He refers to the Garden of Earthly Delights, which I believe is the name of a painting, and also to surrealism. I just assumed that you were one of the playwrights who likes adapting art styles to plays.  I don't particularly.  Like Vanessa says, why should you conform your creativity to the expectations of the autidnece as to style?  I never said that you should do that, and I don't think you should.  However people do it, and I suppose you could put original content in a non-original style.

 

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Will Kemp
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Martin,

  I'm curious where you got this information on meter.  Is there a book on it that you used or you just figured it out?  I read about how the Greek playwrights would use different meters to suggest different moods for  different parts of the Greek plays.  I wished English was a syllabic language like Greek.  I took a semester of Greek in hopes of being able to read enough of a play to get a feel for it.

The Poetics of Aristotle talks some about meters, but I haven't found a good book on the topic yet.  (I haven't looked, to be truthful.)

One translator  of Greek plays who tries to get the feel of Greek meters is C.K. Williams.

  You know a lot about meter!  I don't know much, but I just found some interesting information about meter in John Basil's new book on embedded acting cues in Shakespeare.  He gets me really interested in using meter to suggest character, which I understand is what you are trying to do.  You are right, that all your characters tend to sound like each other if you don't give them individual styles of speech.  [I think that is called "ventriloquism" by critics.]  I didn't know you could do so much with meter in English as you do. I guess I am going to have to download your play and study it more, because I really need to understand this.

You said you liked Barnes' credo, and Barnes does mention art styles, along with other styles.  He refers to the Garden of Earthly Delights, which I believe is the name of a painting, and also to surrealism. I just assumed that you were one of the playwrights who likes adapting art styles to plays.  I don't particularly.  Like Vanessa says, why should you conform your creativity to the expectations of the autidnece as to style?  I never said that you should do that, and I don't think you should.  However people do it, and I suppose you could put original content in a non-original style.

 

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 Posted: Mon Mar 10th, 2008 10:41 am
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Martin H
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Some of the information on meter goes back to high school and college, some I picked up here and there. I'm not positive I'm using the term Homeric verse correctly, and what I learned about that I learned by using it, here and in a number of poems I wrote with a long line I discovered, by counting, had an irregular number of syllables but, consistently, seven stresses.  (I sometimes wrote similarly, but with a smaller syllable count; I think some of my poetry is even outright free verse. I'm not sure what the principle is behind free verse, but if it works as poetry it's because of some coding in the stresses laid on words; the one clear difference I'm aware of between prose and poetry apart from paragraph/stanza and line break/sentence as units, is that the stresses in prose are expected to be more nearly invisible.) I've read about meter in various places, but haven't studied it in any particular book. I've studied it more by reading poetry and absorbing its lessons, and writing it, which (why this is I don't know) sooner or later obliges you to think about why you're doing it the way you're doing it.

I think all the arts are cross-fertile. I've written stories directly inspired by paintings, and usually tried to echo the visual style in the verbal style of the piece, not as a slavish adaptation but as a way of playing freely between the forms. The main thing to be aware of at any time is that you are applying a style, or a mix of them, (in theatre comic, tragicomic, historical, historical-pastoral--well I'm sure you remember that drill from Hamlet.) About the only style I can think of which can be used unthinkingly is naturalism, and it shows. It's amazing how little attention people pay to reality once they've decided they're transcribing it direct. Naturalism eliminates or dramatically underplays pose, attitude, rhetoric, ritualistic patterns of speech, theatricality, flamboyance, fantastically elaborated verbal  invention--it's no wonder it's boring, and no wonder that it reflects nothing real in human life, since all those devices were routinely employed in human speech before theatre as an independent entity existed. I think it was even asserted in this thread that the verbal use of metaphor is hard 'because people don't normally talk in metaphor', but I defy anybody to listen carefully to ordinary conversation for twenty four hours, keeping as strict a count of them as possible, and still come away believing metaphor isn't a constant of human speech.


This is another quote I like from the Peter Barnes introduction:

At times I feel I could not track an elephant
in six feet of snow, but at least I have provided a
good home for scores of old jokes who had nowhere else
to go. I have laughed a lot when I did not feel a lot
like laughing and of course I have made a mess of my
life, but then I have made a mess of all my shirts. I
write hoping to make the world a little better and
perhaps to be remembered. The latter part of that
statement is foolish, as I can see, quite plainly, the
time when this planet grows cold and the Universe
leaks away into another Universe and the Cosmos
finally dies and there is nothing but night and
nothing. It's the end, but that is never a good enough
reason for not going on. A writer who does not write
corrupts the soul. Besides, it is absurd to sit around
sniffing wild flowers when you can create them, and
new worlds.


Last edited on Mon Mar 10th, 2008 11:16 am by Martin H

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Will Kemp
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Vanessa,

  I apologize. . .I don't mean to be racist, but I only recently learned about the genocide in my area, where bounty hunters massacred Cherokees for money.  The more racist the whites acted, the more non-racist the Cherokees spokke and acted.  So, in order to adhere to my ancestors' principles, I should do likewise.  I've been totally shocked.

  Oh, I DON't think that a person should ever force their creativity to conform to audience "expectations of style" (good phrase).  In fact, I dislike style movements intenselyt.  Nevertheless, I love to look at art to see how other people have found ways to express themselves.  I haven't.  I have written four and a half plays, three of which are realistic.  I am disatisfied with them, however. I want to write for the audience, to give  them characters who are in conflict and resolving their conflicts (catharsis). I am hunting and hurting  for a modern style to achieve effects like the Greek playwrights and Shakespeare had on me. 

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Proboscisbunny
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Will -

My dear, stop hunting and hurting...your style is within you waiting to be discovered. The Cherokee's must have a ritual to aid you in that!

I had a voice teacher who would sit in a medicine circle...I remember sitting there with her poring the smoke of sage and sweet grass over ourselves. I was young...I didn't quite understand what I was doing... Clensing myself.

Clense thyself of the modern day audiences expectation of style, and naturalism and TV...what's left is your voice.

Vanessa

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 Posted: Tue Mar 11th, 2008 01:19 am
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Will Kemp
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Hi Vanessa.

  Good advice. You sound so confident. . .you must have written a good play!  I wonder if I even have a style in me.  Maybe I am just a multiple personality masquerading as a normal person trying to create play characters ( : }

 I may go talk to some Cherokees.  I have a couple names to check out in Cherokee, N.C.  I went down there last summer to see their new version of the play, "Unto These Hills"  They have a ramp festival Mar. 29 that I'd like to go to so I can steal some ramps to bring back here and plant.  Well, I wouldn't steal them. . .I'd take them some pawpaws and wild garlic to trade.

I will look for CCD on this site.  It made me think about bees, so today I bought some Tithonia seed, the orange Mexican sunflowers:  Bumblebees love them and they grow real easy.

Greta

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 Posted: Tue Mar 11th, 2008 01:47 am
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Will Kemp
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If you like Archilochus, I have a translation of his poetry done by my former professor, Guy Davenport.  Davenport  translated fragments which are just outrageously bawdy and obscene, even though they are just phrases. 

I do like this quote from Barnes immensely:  A writer who does not write corrupts the soul.  I'm not Catholic, but I got the idea from reading the Catholic philosopher Fulton Sheen that sin means violating your true spiritual nature.  .   . a writer who does not write is a "sinner".  However, not sure I agree with Barnes about the wildflowers.  I still have a conflict between wanting to go hiking and look at flowers and work and never ever write, and do nothing but write.  I am drawn to the outdoors.

  I decided I will study meter, after reading your posts.  I do write poetry and have a general knowledge of meters, but I am not confident applying meter to the speech of characters in plays.  I want to know the effect my characters have on the audience.

Maybe I will study rhetoric again.  I have Aristotle's book on rhetoric, but I want to get the one by Sister Miriam Joseph on Shakespeare's rhetoric.

I would like to write poetry that looks and sounds like prose, like Lear's speeches in the storm.  That kind of poetry communicates immediately to the audience because it sounds like normal speech.

I will read your scenes out loud and see how they feel.

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Basso
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I think all the arts are cross-fertile.
What fun, I like this idea of fertilizing across the arts; although I'm sure it isn't a new idea. It seems there have been any number of horny artists that have given in to this practice.

 
About the only style I can think of which can be used unthinkingly is naturalism, and it shows. It's amazing how little attention people pay to reality once they've decided they're transcribing it direct.

If it is naturalism, then is it a style, at all? If it is naturalism, then would not the paying attention to it make it contrived? If I watch my arm reach for a glass, is the movement automatic then, and therefore natural, or is it now a manipulation?


 
Naturalism eliminates or dramatically underplays pose, attitude, rhetoric, ritualistic patterns of speech, theatricality, flamboyance, fantastically elaborated verbal  invention--it's no wonder it's boring, and no wonder that it reflects nothing real in human life, since all those devices were routinely employed in human speech before theatre as an independent entity existed.

Hmm, what about clarity. "I am hungry!" might not be a fantastically elaborated verbal invention, but it is clear. If I say, "I am outraged by the voraciousness of my own, ever crying, always begging, innards," I may be in danger of not getting my food...and, I must always have my food.


I think it was even asserted in this thread that the verbal use of metaphor is hard 'because people don't normally talk in metaphor', but I defy anybody to listen carefully to ordinary conversation for twenty four hours, keeping as strict a count of them as possible, and still come away believing metaphor isn't a constant of human speech.



 
Then we must not listen carefully, for you have defied us to do so? :D I'm sorry, but I got lost in the parenthetical phrases. Surely twenty-four hours of listening for metaphor is excessive, even for metaphor listening. I prescribe no more than two-hours, with a break of 20 minutes in-between for peeing, and then a refreshing drink along with some peanuts. This would give it the feel of of the theatre, thereby creating the appropriate environment for such metaphor listening. Friends, who thought they had come over for some diversion by snorting things and playing with other spouses knees would instead,find themselves observed by the most discerning metaphor listening to hit the world...ever. Afterwards, in a haze of unwetted sexual appetite and too much booze, they would be struck by how we live on a planet that whirls around in space, and isn't that just like being married, a whirl-wind in space. Contemplating this excruciating metaphor, they would all look skyward again, only to be killed by a piece of satellite debris.  Billie, the neighborhood paper-girl, watching from her bedroom window would utter, "All life's a metaphor, and we all its similes."

Basso

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 Posted: Wed Mar 12th, 2008 12:22 am
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Martin H
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If it is naturalism, then is it a style, at all? If it is naturalism, then would not the paying attention to it make it contrived? If I watch my arm reach for a glass, is the movement automatic then, and therefore natural, or is it now a manipulation?


     Interesting question, and as your own answer indicates, one that starts the mind focusing on the mirrors within which we watch ourselves watching ourselves watching ourselves. Any method of storytelling is a style which more or less mediates between reality and its own method of fictionalizing. Naturalism does in fact make the claim that it is not a style, but a transcription of reality, and as I've pointed out, the elements it strips from presentation aren't missing from reality, but from its own limited awareness of same. It would certainly be considered a violation of naturalism to acknowledge within a play being presented that it is a play, but it's far more realistic to call a story a story and a play a play, and admit that they're comments on reality. not reality itself. (Worth also noting perhaps that it's scarcely possible for the theatre at its utmost extreme of artificiality to be more theatrical than real life. Take a look at surviving footage of Hitler giving a speech if you can google one from somewhere; ask yourself if you've ever seen a ham actor chew the scenery so shamelessly.)

In his own introduction to one of his stories, the great American writer R.A. Lafferty came up with the splendid rallying cry, "Get up and fight some more, dead people!" Naturalism, it seems to me, invites people to lie down and die. I prefer a more activist approach to theatre, literature and art.

Sure, two hours is plenty of time to demonstrate the point I was making about metaphor. Ten minutes in a diner overhearing a conversation at the next table is enough if you're paying attention. We don't notice metaphor in daily speech for the same reason we don't notice that we breathe air; the value of metaphor in theatre is that if done well it's impossible to ignore, and awakens your sense of it in daily life, for a little while at least. 

As an undergraduate English Lit major once wrote in a term paper, "If you told the average man his life was dominated by metaphor, he might reply 'You're out of your tree!' " 

Last edited on Wed Mar 12th, 2008 12:27 am by Martin H

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 Posted: Tue Aug 19th, 2008 08:10 pm
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LeeM
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I may be jumping into this topic a tad late but it has some interesting takes from everyone. I am commissioned each year to write a murder mystery for a local group in my area. Many people ask me "how do you do it?" I know many people think that with a "who-dunnit" that a lot of planning, outlining etc.. goes into a murder mystery play - but ummm... no.
I only let a few ideas ferment in my brain for a month or so and then - like the book report that is due in school the next day - sit down and write it.
The only plan I have ahead of time, is the 'situation' and a some of the characters. I've used a High School Reunion, a Wedding Reception, a Corporate Board meeting and that's really all I have before I begin writing.
I bring the characters in, let them interact and then sit back while the plot takes off by itself.   There is no outline I work from. It isn't until I'm about 3/4ths of the way through the script, do I start thinking about "who" should be "murdered" and "who did it".  Once I decide those 2 essential points - I will go back through the script from the beginning and re-write here and there so that the plot naturally leads to the conclusion I've decided.
I know it sounds like "extra work" but unfortunately, that is the method I've become accustomed to.  I did try one time to think everything out before hand, before I began writing and for some reason it caused all sorts of problems. I would become stuck in one or two scenes just rewriting and rewriting, trying to make it fit the "outcome" I had planned. It took me for ever to finish the play. 
I have never thought ahead again. Even about posting on this topic. I thought and thought about what I wanted to add - that was when this topic was new.
Finally, I had to click reply and just write.

Last edited on Tue Aug 19th, 2008 08:13 pm by LeeM

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 Posted: Sun Aug 30th, 2009 08:27 pm
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Timothy McAndrews
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Synopsis, outlines, notes....These are helpful things for teachers, reviewers, editors, producers and directors who want an idea of what's happening before they invest time in actually reading a manuscript. I, myself, in my job as director/producer like to know how many characters and how many scene changes will be necessary before I read a script. One of the most frightening things I've learned about the literary business is how illiterate its professionals are.

For the most part, I invent a character or two and as they talk to each other I begin to see a setting around them or a back story or a conflict. I have to go back, of course, and edit things to make the story hang together but if my characters alone cannot hold my interest then what is the point in even having a story.

Since the first act of a conventional play is mostly about setting up the action for the second act, it is easier to load up on characters and possibilities without an outline, but the outline may save the author a great deal of trouble if he can take the characters that 'created themselves' and drop them into a story line that gives them the conflict, climax snd resolution they deserve.

The spark of inspiration is essential, of course, but it is easily doused. An outline can help keep its delicate flame burning...TMc

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 Posted: Fri Sep 4th, 2009 02:20 pm
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Rorgg
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Old thread, but I'm glad it got pushed up, I doubt I'd have seen it otherwise, there's a lot of good and/or interesting stuff in here.

The first time I tried my hand at this, I tried writing with a stream of consciousness, and the resulting display was a rambling mess that I disliked so much I just put the piece away.  That's not to say it can't be done or it's not a good method; I couldn't do it, at least at that time, and produce an acceptable result.

The next time through I wrote with a partner.  She already had the concept in hand and some of the characters, so what we did was expand the cast, decide on the structure of the piece, then plot out the developments.  The difference, for me, was night and day.  I replicated the process for my next full-length play, and I thought it was immensely easier than my first attempt, not to mention that I'm rather happy with the result.

Going back to Will's remarks of a year and change ago -- I acted in a production of "Much Ado About Nothing" this summer, and although I'd read the play and seen it a few times, it wasn't until the umpteenth run in rehearsals that I really appreciated the structure.  Every scene has a specific purpose that needs to be filled to go on to the next scene.  In fact, I never had any trouble remembering the scene order once I grokked this, because once you identified why the scene existed, it was easy to place it.

I really like writing from point to point within a scene -- even when I divert, it gives me something to shoot for with an exit from the diversion, and I'm never sitting at the keyboard wondering "well, what're they going to do next?"  I know that.  And if it needs to be fleshed out more at the end, it's a lot easier to go in and add than it is to cut.

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 Posted: Sun Sep 6th, 2009 07:01 pm
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Timothy McAndrews
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I was an actor long before I was a playwright. In fact, it was the fantasy of getting better parts that first inspired me to write. Fortunately, I soon realized there was more to it. But having a part in a show, especially a great show like a Shakespeare play, and looking at it from the author's point of view is a great experience and very helpful to those of us who trudge along in Old Will's footsteps.

You can easily see from any of WS's plays that "stream of conscience" had nothing to do with it. Shakespeare never wrote a scene without knowing where it was going to end. I think that is the essential task of a playwright...to move the story from here to there. The artistry is in the judgement as to whether to make the journey easily or with conflict or funnily or tragically. And then the overall play is also a journey from here to there with each scene a stone on the path.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Posted: Sun Aug 29th, 2010 06:00 pm
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Michael Shandrick
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I don't think planning is such a bad thing. I am not suggesting a synopsis is required, but it can be helpful in stirring the pot and getting good ideas roughed out. The goal is to get the writer to tell the story they want to tell. What a plan does not do is guarantee your outline will get the full approval of a stern teacher, like what we had to do in school. A plan can be thrown away or simply abandoned, but it does have one good thing going for it... it gets pencil to paper, often a very difficult task for writers.

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 Posted: Thu Jun 30th, 2011 12:10 am
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Tomcollective
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Not sure who'll read this, seeing as it's been almost a year since the last post. BUT, I happen to be unlike most of the people here in that I MUST do a lot of prep and planning and plotting before I can start a draft. In fact, if I write without doing this work, I feel as if I'm slogging through a swamp. I can do it, but it just takes so much damn effort it's exhausting.

The prep work is where I get to know the story. It's where I get an idea of who my characters are. I learn what the story's truly about. And most importantly, it provides me with a road map for the trip I'm about to take.

The best way to put this is that I use the prep work to act out the piece in my mind without having to put it down fully in the form of a draft. The effect is that I end up rewriting a lot before I ever set a word down in proper formatting.

I end up doing far more work on prep than I do writing the draft. And I usually know if I've done enough prep by how easily I'm able to write my draft.

I can see where the "channeling" comes in though. I rely on that too. I just give myself a LOT of guideposts to follow.

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 Posted: Fri Jul 13th, 2012 05:16 pm
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Edd
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Tomcollective,

I admire your ability to plan and draft. I might be a better playwright if I did it. I don't seem to be able to and not because I haven't tried. The journey is so much fun for me and I like to be surprised along the way. Sometimes I could kick myself for not planning what I am going to write instead of moving blindly towards the end. That may be the answer to why nobody has ever heard of me. :o(

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 Posted: Fri Jul 13th, 2012 06:29 pm
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Paddy
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I've heard of you.  Besides all that, you would be the first person here to say, whatever gets you a play.

So...whatever gets you a play.

Paddy

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