The Playwrights Forum Home 
 

SEARCH STAGEPLAYS.COM
THE WORLD'S LARGEST PLAY DATABASE

  STAGEPLAYS BOOKSHOP NEW CYBERPRESS PLAYS PLAYWRIGHTING BOOKS PUBLISH MY PLAY AFFILIATE PROGRAM THE THEATRE BANNER EXCHANGE  
The Playwrights Forum > The Art & Craft of Writing > Work-in-Progress > Clarification on a Critique

* STAGEPLAYS WANTS TO PUBLISH YOUR PLAY *
click here for details

 Moderated by: Paddy, Edd
New Topic Reply Printer Friendly
Clarification on a Critique  Rating:  Rating
AuthorPost
 Posted: Sun May 16th, 2010 10:09 pm
  PM Quote Reply
1st Post
RTurco
Member


Joined: Wed Nov 19th, 2008
Location: New Jersey USA
Posts: 254
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 
I recently presented my full-length play to Young Playwrights Inc.'s National Playwriting Competition. The theatre is the only one of its kind to produce plays written by young writers. My play was not accepted to continue on, but I received a nice little critiquing. They deemed my play thoughtful, and albeit it being set in the Soviet Union 1938, they noted that "it still resonates with the human condition". They went on to cite outstanding moments in the play, but then they moved to the drawbacks.

I welcome constructive criticism, yet I can't seem to figure out the actual meaning of this one: they comment how the play "takes play in a very specific historical world, but that the rules of the play are kind of 'fluid'."  

There are realistic elements in the play, but then, they are some unnatural points too: the protagonist hallucinates throughout the second Act and visions of his late brother plague him to no end. The hallucination (who I think is the result of the theatre's confusion) also kind of becomes the in-story narrator, as he can interact with all characters without them knowing his existence; he exists only in the protagonist's mind and mocks everyone by stating sarcastic assessments of their state.

In any case, the theatre goes on to mention how they were confused because they could not understand the rules of the play: "Not knowing the fundamental rules of the play left me on muddy ground to decipher the text. It may be helpful to decide a few ground rules governing your play (i.e. It is a heightened reality, therefore nobody will speak realistically). Clarifying the rules of the world in which your play is set and what theatrical devices you will use to tell the story could be a useful place to start revising..."

I don't really understand what it means to say "rules of a play". Is it the things that govern the realism of the work or something else? Others (and Clausey of this forum) had no difficulty in deciphering the text, so it may be just a personal assessment by the reader. Even so, I wonder what you all have to say about these "rules". Any information is helpful to my understanding of this critique.

~RTurco

Back To Top PM Quote Reply  

 Posted: Mon May 17th, 2010 01:32 pm
  PM Quote Reply
2nd Post
Paddy
Moderator


Joined: Fri Jun 9th, 2006
Location: Kitchener, Ontario Canada
Posts: 2209
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 
I haven't read your play, but...there are rules?

My motto...learn the rules then you can break them effectively.

I think you should write the play whichever way it wants to be written. Actually...sounds quite intriguing.

Thing is...plays, although they are read alot, are meant to be seen/heard/felt. I think things that may not be clear in dialogue, are very clear on stage. I'm thinking...don't let this make you run and rewrite it. Send it somewhere else.

My two scents.

Paddy

Back To Top PM Quote Reply

 Posted: Mon May 17th, 2010 02:38 pm
  PM Quote Reply
3rd Post
Edd
Moderator


Joined: Sat Jun 10th, 2006
Location: Denver, Colorado USA
Posts: 1612
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 
"Others (and Clausey of this forum) had no difficulty in deciphering the text, so it may be just a personal assessment by the reader."

It's ALWAYS a personal assessment by the reader.  Listen to Paddy. 

Edd

Back To Top PM Quote Reply  

 Posted: Mon May 17th, 2010 09:47 pm
  PM Quote Reply
4th Post
RTurco
Member


Joined: Wed Nov 19th, 2008
Location: New Jersey USA
Posts: 254
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 
Thanks for the help, Paddy and Edd!

I know it is a strong play, and as the theatre said, it "has had a lot of hard work behind it". I don't think I'll go and be making any sort of major, rule-abiding changes any time soon. And I've got a whole list of other theatres to consider sending this play to, as well. I know that if this forum and its members have taught me one thing, and they have actually taught me many things, it is that playwrighting has a few rules to be learned. And these rules are then, once after being studied, meant to be obliterated into tiny pieces.

~RTurco

Back To Top PM Quote Reply

 Posted: Thu May 20th, 2010 05:47 am
  PM Quote Reply
5th Post
in media res
Moderator
 

Joined: Sun Jul 2nd, 2006
Location:  
Posts: 1915
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 
RTurco,

Congratulations on the boldness of your topic!

I'll have more to say later. I am going to bed.

But I would like to say, given paddy's comment, and so many others who say "break the rules." She is correct, but I think her language is not clear.

The more you learn, the more strength of knowledge you will be able to have in your arsenal to utilize or dismiss critiques. Some of the most effective critiques I have ever read of my work - whether as an actor or writer - have been the most stunning and even unintentionally hurtful - like being creatively tasered. It knocks you out, but it also wakes you up!

I say," Learn the rules and reconfigure/rethink them and implement your own vision effectively."

Read artists' journals and discover how well and diligently they studied traditional technique. They were masters of technique. The Impressionists were masters of technique. Then they saw in a new way. They created in a new way. They were not breaking anything. Breaking implies destroying. They were expanding. They were seeing anew...in a fresh way. Their way. Big difference in the psychology of the language.

Everyone talks about breaking the rules. There is something negative in that approach. I believe It falsely implies, especially to nascent artists of any age, that there is no need for a foundation of knowledge.

This knowledge does not have to come from formal training. It must come from an innate curiosity of the creative process and the desire to learn and learn and learn. I've known many "artists" in many fields who have fallen aside because of a false sense of arrogance through ignorance.

Creativity is always a positive thing. Creation is always a positive thing. But, does not imply what is created cannot be terribly upsetting and startling to a current popular sensibility. It often must be. It is a necessity for growth.

Walt Whitmans' poetry was not breaking anything. It was growth. Read the letter Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote to Whitman noticing his extreme talent. It is a great example of a great artist/thinker of one era noticing another great artist of a new era.

Robert McKee states: "Anxious, inexperienced writers obey rules. Rebellious, unschooled writers break rules. Artists master the form."

best,

in media res

Last edited on Thu May 20th, 2010 06:09 am by in media res

Back To Top PM Quote Reply  

 Posted: Thu May 20th, 2010 07:18 am
  PM Quote Reply
6th Post
Edd
Moderator


Joined: Sat Jun 10th, 2006
Location: Denver, Colorado USA
Posts: 1612
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 
"Anxious, inexperienced writers obey rules. Rebellious, unschooled writers break rules. Artists master the form."

WOW!

Back To Top PM Quote Reply

 Posted: Thu May 20th, 2010 01:53 pm
  PM Quote Reply
7th Post
Darkja
Member


Joined: Fri Jan 29th, 2010
Location: Monroe, North Carolina USA
Posts: 89
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 
I haven't read the work so I will keep my comments particularly brief. I write in a non-realistic vein primarily. While there are no set "rules" by other people you do somewhat set your own. Did the hallucinations only being in Act II? If so I could see how it could be confusing to anaudience viewing (it may be clarer in a read) the piece. Typically you set the style, tone, and rules of a world early in a piece. Once they are set they are difficult (albeit not impossible) to augment. For example consider the reverse of what you've done if you were writing non-realism. A sudden shift to realism could be jaring. Just my thoughts. I am by no means a really experienced playwright.

Back To Top PM Quote Reply  

 Posted: Thu May 20th, 2010 03:34 pm
  PM Quote Reply
8th Post
Doug B
Member


Joined: Thu May 20th, 2010
Location: Eastsound, Washington USA
Posts: 94
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 
All plays have rules.  They are the rules that the playwright sets.

There are many rules but they vary for each play.  For example, if I am writing a totally realistic play, that is a rule.  If a spaceship swoops down at the climax to rescue the protagonist, I have broken the rule of realism.  That is not to say that I can't have the spaceship rescue the hero but it can't be totally out of context.

In your play, have you alerted the audience that the hero will have hallucinations?

If your protagonist is calm, cool and collected throughout Act One then is a babbling idiot in the second act without any reason or explanation, you have broken the rules.  You need to foreshadow his change so we are not surprised when it happens.

Look at King Lear.  He slides into "madness" and holds "court" in the hovel.  It works because we have seen his slide into the "madness".  I put "madness" in quotes because I'm not totally sure that is what it really is.  If we saw the Act I Scene 1 Lear hold court in the hovel it wouldn't work.

I recently read a play about four old men playing poker.  About 20 minutes into the play the four start talking with four letter words.  The salty language lasted about ten minutes then reverted to the prior language.  There was no reference to it, there was no explanation, there was no reason for it.  There was not a single cuss word anywhere else in the play.  It looked to me like someone other than the playwright wrote those 12 pages.    Or maybe the playwright added that language to appeal to a specific audience who expect coarse language.  The play might have worked but I was so jarred with the language change I would not consider it.  The playwright broke her own rule about who the four characters were.

Whether you write them down or not, you establish many rules for each play you write.  If you break them, the audience will be confused and the play probably won't work.

Doug




Back To Top PM Quote Reply

 Posted: Thu May 20th, 2010 08:07 pm
  PM Quote Reply
9th Post
in media res
Moderator
 

Joined: Sun Jul 2nd, 2006
Location:  
Posts: 1915
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 
I agree with what everyone has posted. Doug and Darkja may be explaining more to the point of your particular question than what I mentioned. I was speaking in general. They are speaking more of a particular world which is established in each play. Look at the questions they are asking.

Yes, we do establish "rules" for each particular play we write. Each play has a different overall tone as well. For example: tragedy, comedy, romance melodrama, etc. To violate them on what may seem whimsy to a reader is to give the reader/audience wrong directions to the point of a particular play. It deflects them and can lose them on your trail they are following. Keep them wondering not wandering. The clearer one can be the more the reader will be able to follow. Ever hiked a trail and come to a fork and someone or Mother Nature has muddled up the trail marker?

In edd's excellent play "The Moon Away" there is a point where he brings in the Pope for Chrissakes. (Read it for yourself) But it all is brilliantly staying on the point of the play. We don't want to confuse an audience, we want to intrigue an audience to find out what is behind the next door.

Since I have not read your play, but am already fascinated by it, I'll ask just a few questions: Is the theatrical device you use for the hallucination clear and consistent throughout? What is the inciting reason for each hallucination? Is each one necessary? Is each one just a commentary on what is going on- thereby slowing down the progression of the story - or does it also move the story along? (I just now came up with a little saying for playwriting "Commentary Kills.")

And, as edd says, every assessment is a personal assessment. And you have other people who do find clarity in the piece. So, the good is outnumbered by the one. I would take a fresh look at your play in a couple of weeks. If it holds up perfectly, keep going with it.

By the way, in 1938 in Russia under Stalin, I do not find it unrealistic that most of the most of the population could have been hallucinating out of necessity. Maybe your reader did not know his history.

Keep us posted.

Best with it,

in media res

Last edited on Thu May 20th, 2010 08:16 pm by in media res

Back To Top PM Quote Reply  

 Posted: Thu May 20th, 2010 09:29 pm
  PM Quote Reply
10th Post
RTurco
Member


Joined: Wed Nov 19th, 2008
Location: New Jersey USA
Posts: 254
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 
Hello everyone!

I am quite pleased with all the responses I've been getting. In media res, I totally agree when you say that more knowledge of the craft should be gained in order to adequately deem a critique as useful or not.

Learn the rules and reconfigure/rethink them and implement your own vision effectively.

I like that a lot.

 

Now, to address questions directed at the play:

- There is a great deal of foreshadowing as to the protagonist's later state of insanity. In Act One, it seems that the conflict of familial relations is tearing his mind apart and pushing him towards the edge.

- There is only one form of hallucination that appears throughout the play: it is a vision of the protagonist's late brother. It is explicitly stated in stage directions that the hallucination is to move in a ghostly manner and even more so, that no one but the protagonist acknowledges its existence. The hallucination itself even subtly asserts that he exists solely in the protagonist's mind.

- This hallucination, while it does provide some commentary, has a primarily functional existence. It goads the protagonist into doing the unthinkable... It maliciously abuses the protagonist by twisting his words around to inflict feelings of guilt and hint at underlying motivations.

- The hallucination exists because of the protagonist's immense guilt upon the assassination of his brother. Maybe the protagonist is trying to fill the void his brother left as well? It is never explicitly stated why but the reason may be inferred or at least guessed at.

 
*Think of it almost like Willy Loman's hallucinations in Death of a Salesman.
 

Sometimes, I feel like the artist is not the best one to judge his work. Since he has crafted it and stayed with it from the beginning, he knows exactly what is deep under the surface; i.e. he needs a new pair of eyes to help him figure out what's what. Having said that, if anyone would like to take a look at the play, send me a private message with your email and I will get it to you shortly. (There is also an excerpt of the play on this forum, just search for the play's title, "The Red Crow" and you'll find it.)

 

Thanks for the feedback everyone,

~RTurco

Last edited on Sun May 23rd, 2010 08:38 pm by RTurco

Back To Top PM Quote Reply

 Posted: Sat May 22nd, 2010 04:11 pm
  PM Quote Reply
11th Post
Doug B
Member


Joined: Thu May 20th, 2010
Location: Eastsound, Washington USA
Posts: 94
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 
Two points:

First the artist is NOT the best one to judge their own work.  The biggest obstacle is that you know what you intended.  I can point to dozens of plays I have written or critiqued where the playwright understood what was happening and could not understand that the reader (or audience member) could not see what was so clear to the playwright.  As playwright you know everything about each character.  The audience only knows what they see and hear.  It is hard to put that inside knowledge aside.

Secondly, you need to consider the source of the criticism and look behind the actual words to find out what was meant by the criticism.  I can't tell you how often I get criticism that has nothing to do with the play but shows the desire of the reader.  Here are two real life examples:  "I think Karen should be 50 years old."  (From a 50 year old actress ignoring the fact that Karen has two children under five years old.)  "I hate Beth."  (because she was having an affair and the reviewer thought it was wrong for anyone to have an affair.)

There is also the criticism that you do not agree with.  "This should be a comedy." or "Gabe is too nice."  In these cases, carefully consider the comment and if you disagree with it, ignore it.  Of course, if ten people all say the same thing, they are probably right.  On the other hand, if you agree with the criticism, you need to fix what is wrong.

Doug

Back To Top PM Quote Reply  

 Posted: Sun May 23rd, 2010 08:28 pm
  PM Quote Reply
12th Post
RTurco
Member


Joined: Wed Nov 19th, 2008
Location: New Jersey USA
Posts: 254
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 
Thank you, Doug, for the important points. I think the best thing to do next would be to send the play to more theatres, so that way, if others continue to point out a serious flaw, it can be properly identified as an inherent problem within the work (and not just someone's opinion) and therefore, corrected.

~RTurco

Back To Top PM Quote Reply

 Posted: Thu Mar 10th, 2011 06:16 pm
  PM Quote Reply
13th Post
QuixotesGhost
Member
 

Joined: Thu Feb 25th, 2010
Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado
Posts: 89
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 
First the artist is NOT the best one to judge their own work.  The biggest obstacle is that you know what you intended.  I can point to dozens of plays I have written or critiqued where the playwright understood what was happening and could not understand that the reader (or audience member) could not see what was so clear to the playwright.  As playwright you know everything about each character.  The audience only knows what they see and hear.  It is hard to put that inside knowledge aside.

 

I agree, however, it can be really helpful to walk away from a work for a while - stuff it in the back of your closet, don't think about it, try to forget, and then pull it out months later and give it a read. Basically see if the past you was effective at communicating those ideas to the current you.

"This is muddled, I don't understand this - wait - that was what I was trying to get at." *rewrite - rewrite - rewrite*

Back To Top PM Quote Reply  

 Posted: Fri Apr 1st, 2011 10:58 pm
  PM Quote Reply
14th Post
RTurco
Member


Joined: Wed Nov 19th, 2008
Location: New Jersey USA
Posts: 254
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 
Update: After spending a long time away from my craft due to school, I think I've found a way to clarify the hallucination device. I could supply a brief explanation under the character's section in the Character Page. So here's what I've put:

Principal Characters


Ivan Pavlovich Kharlamov (Vanya) – a journalist of about forty-five years old.

Nikolai Pavlovich Kharlamov (Kolya) - Ivan’s younger brother, in his late thirties. The actor portraying this character will return in Act II to play a hallucination that only Ivan can see and hear.

...


Is that kind of thing appropriate? I know long-winded character descriptions are a thing of the past, but should I go on? Curious to know what others think.


All the Best


~RTurco

Back To Top PM Quote Reply

 Posted: Sat Apr 2nd, 2011 05:05 pm
  PM Quote Reply
15th Post
in media res
Moderator
 

Joined: Sun Jul 2nd, 2006
Location:  
Posts: 1915
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 
RTurco,

Good to see you back.

It is entirely appropriate to do it this way.

The one thing you will lose, however, is the element of surprise! It is fun to read a play and say "Holy Cow."

However, I would prefer clarity - as you now leave no doubt - rather than have the reader be lost. Remember, as a screenwriter told me once and I have mentioned it here before, "Never underestimate the stupidity of the first reader." He also said, "Look things are going to be cut and edited and re-written no matter what you do. So, make it easy for them."

best,

in media res

Back To Top PM Quote Reply  

 Posted: Thu Jun 30th, 2011 01:51 am
  PM Quote Reply
16th Post
Tomcollective
Member
 

Joined: Thu Jun 16th, 2011
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA
Posts: 8
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 
Rules question: You probably understand this by now, but I'll still throw in.

The "rules of the play" refer simply to how the world of the play works. They were saying that they didn't understand who the hallucination was, and how he operated in your story. Because they couldn't understand it, this element became a distraction to the rest of the dramatic action.

As far as clarifying it: this is one area where a simple line of dialogue can do all the work you need. Have either character mention that the man is dead, and/or not real, and BAM!, problem solved. This assumes that the interaction you refer to earlier is more limited. If your hallucination is having conversations with other characters, then that still gets confusing. But even then, call him a ghost in that case and once again, problem (hopefully) solved.

Back To Top PM Quote Reply

 Posted: Mon Dec 19th, 2011 03:15 pm
  PM Quote Reply
17th Post
Michael Morris
Member
 

Joined: Thu Dec 15th, 2011
Location:  
Posts: 36
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 
The rules of rules...

1) Know the rule.
2) Know the why of the rule.
3) Once 1 and 2 are understood you may break the rule if it isn't applicable to the situation at hand.

Back To Top PM Quote Reply  

Current time is 01:19 pm  
The Playwrights Forum > The Art & Craft of Writing > Work-in-Progress > Clarification on a Critique Top




UltraBB 1.17 Copyright © 2007-2011 Data 1 Systems
Page processed in 0.1803 seconds (15% database + 85% PHP). 27 queries executed.