A couple of years ago, a fairly traumatic experience befell me. After getting over the shock and pain, the idea of transforming the events into a dramatic piece of work became suddenly very attractive. Yet, I resisted in going forth with the project for personal reasons, mainly because I was worried about what I might learn about myself during the process and what it would do to my psyche. Now, after a considerable amount of time, I think that I am ready to start on the task of dramatizing the three pivotal weeks of my life that I believe made me who I am today. So my question is this: How do you feel about writing autobiographical pieces? Have any of you gone through the process and also the emotional experience?
I wrote an autobiographical play titled THE MOON AWAY. Is was about the most horrific event in my life. IMR read it and you might want to do the same.
The hardest part of writing it was not to pull my punches for the character of person I love, I needed warts, because they were true, and it took a gazillion re-writes to bring him to life. As for me, my problem was being too unkind to myself -- too hard on myself. I had to temper it. I really ripped myself open and poured it all onto the page.
It premiered at the Greenwich House Theatre, played in Boston, and was produced by Mesa College in San Diego. It's a rough and extremely painful play, but those that know it think it's my best. It's the honesty that will grab you. Ask IMR.
Please excuse my lack of humbleness about this play, It took years and almost cost me my life.
I think it's a great example of the autobiographical play.
BUT REMEMBER THIS: IT IS A PLAY YOU WILL BE WRITING. NOT A FACTUAL ACCOUNT OF YOURSELF AND/OR SITUATION. THE TRUTH AND FACTS ARE TWO VERY DIFFERENT THINGS. AND IT MUST BE ENGAGING AND ENTERTAINING.
I believe I read the first act of The Moon Away. And I was definitely hooked. Were it not for some academic pressures, I'd have finished it then but I think I'll go back to it now. I'm eager to know how the story turns out.
I realize now that the play I will write shall be dramatically different than the real life experience. And that it will be the outpouring of all my emotions that relate to the tragic event. But that's probably a good thing.
"Yet, I resisted in going forth with the project for personal reasons, mainly because I was worried about what I might learn about myself during the process and what it would do to my psyche. Now, after a considerable amount of time, I think that I am ready to start on the task of dramatizing the three pivotal weeks of my life that I believe made me who I am today. "
Hemingway said something like, "You have to wait awhile before you tell a story. But you can't wait too long." He is not talking about a "time limit" as in real time. He is talking about creative time. You could wait 20 years or two months until the fire hits to tell a particular story. When it is there, however, tell it. I know I've lost stories because I did not go after them when they were calling out. I lost them for a myriad of reasons: fear, laziness, scheduling, time constraints, you name it.
He also said something like, "never tell your story to anyone until you have written it. If you tell it, you will never write it, because you will already have fulfilled the need to tell it."
You also say this which is so good and wise of you:
"I realize now that the play I will write shall be dramatically different than the real life experience. And that it will be the outpouring of all my emotions that relate to the tragic event. But that's probably a good thing."
This is what edd is talking about when he talks Truth as opposed to facts. Facts is reporting. Facts is a police report. (And even they get things wrong. I filed one about a month ago and had to go back and have them correct things.) Artistic Truth is deeper than the facts. So don't get hung up on using just the Facts, or all the facts. You are not making a documentary. Factsare guidelines to Truth. As Robert McKee states, "Facts are the truth with a small T. Art is the Truth with a capital T."
Twist and construct the story to make it good theatre and reveal the truth. Example, Eugene O'Neill, in his devastating play "Long Day's Journey Into Night" totally eliminates from the story that at the character Edmund's age, O'Neill himself had been married and divorced with a kid. He eliminated it because it was not necessary for the Truth to be told. Just because you are selecting/rejecting/inventing certain facts, however does not mean to avoid the honesty edd is talking about.
I've mentioned this before somewhere in a post. When I was in LA several years ago, I went to a play/screenplay reading workshop. The script was pretty darn good and there were excellent. There was a sticking point in the script. And after several people pointed it out, the writer hollered out "BUT THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED!" The excellent, soft-spoken moderator, who was a long-time teacher of screenwriting at USC said, "Facts can never be used in the defense of art." The writer said "BUT..." The moderator again quietly said, "Facts can never be used in the defense of art." We then moved on to the next point in the critique.
Yes, finish THE MOON AWAY. It is brilliant.
And have fun on the wild emotional, roller coaster ride where your play will most likely take you internally. You will come out fine. Remember, roller coasters can be scary as hell, and fun as hell, but they also ride on secure tracks. Those secure tracks you ride on are the art and artifice of playwriting/story telling, not confessional.
I like how your story covers three weeks. Neat. You already have the time constraint. One of my writing teachers, Molly Daniels, told us to always look for "the moments after which everything is different."
From what you've written in your post, you certainly have that, too.
But also remember, the back story timeline is your entire life up until the time of your story.
I'm glad I found this thread. I have been considering writing a autobiographical play myself about some events in my life that have been important in creating the person I am today. I get caught on how to condense it though. How has your luck been?
It's been going okay. I've got about 30 pages down. But lately, I've been having difficulty in pushing myself to continue. I know I can fit at least two or three hours of writing into my schedule but I can't seem to muster up the will to continue. Any ideas?
Just sit your rear end in a chair - or wherever - in front of the computer or with a notepad for 30 minutes each day. Turn off all other media: phone, music, whatever. Turn off your e-mail. Turn off the internet. Turn on your creativity. Have nothing to drink or neat.
Do this for a month everyday. If you can, schedule it at the same time every day - no matter what. Or several times a day - you said you had 3 hours. If nothing comes...nothing comes. At least you had a nice sit. It can't hurt. And if you start feeling stupid just sitting there, just feel stupid! Nothing wrong with that! Or maybe it will just feel like a nice mediation.
This is a kind of variation of something I read that Ray Bradbury wrote.
Thanks for the article, in media res. I just read it. Actually, it really brought out my desire to write. But unfortunately, I'm not alone in my room at the moment. I'm on vacation with the family. So I'll have to wait. But I think that, for me, if I can just read about the craft of playwriting, an article or something, it brings out the desire to get going.
Well everyone, I'm happy to say that I'm back in business!
I've been on a long hiatus, yet despite all of my academic concerns (not counting all the crap I have to deal with regarding college applications), I have found a few hours in the past few days to get back to the piece. And now I've got about 60 pages down that comprise the first act. Happily, I don't see myself stopping until I've reached my January deadline (I intend to send the work over to a theatre in NYC that specialises in the work of young playwrights). I'll keep you all posted!
Last edited on Fri Nov 4th, 2011 01:30 am by RTurco
It is with my greatest displeasure that I now report that the work has been lost. In one of my weaker moments, I seem to have blindly deleted all forms of its existence because I could not handle the pain it forced me to re-endure. I have tried to recover it to no avail. A sad day when a potentially good play is lost.
I have salvaged whatever written notes I possess but I intend to move on. Maybe the desire to write this piece will return again one day, and maybe then I'll be prepared to deal with it. Or maybe not. I've got some ideas for other plays in the back of my head, but right now I've got college apps to concentrate on.
Oh for God's sake! I am heartbroken for you. Get a flash drive and use it every day or so. That way you'll always have a copy outside your computer. 60 pages . . . that breaks my heart. It's like a death in the family. The next time you pick it back up it'll be even better. You'll see.
I have a flash drive but in my anguish, I deleted the copy from there too! Sigh...
But there's good news! It seems that I've been able to recover an earlier version of the work that has about 50 of the total 70 pages and seems to include Act One in it's entirety. Nevetheless, I think I'll move on for now. I've got another piece in mind, yet I don't doubt that one day in the future, I'll return to this one. It's just good to know that at least now, one form of the work is there for me to come home to when I'm ready.
Last edited on Sun Nov 27th, 2011 11:32 pm by RTurco
The problem with writing an autobiographical play is the inclination to write only what actually happened in order to remain true. It is much more liberating when you fictionalize your life, incorporating true events when they serve your story.
My own play WE WERE STARDUST, about college life in the sixties, incorporates much that is true from my own life, but much is fictionalized and fantasized. Once I saw myself as a character with a different name, I was set free.