I have been doing a spot of playwriting. A teeny, tiny spot which you can’t really see with the naked eye. This is because a couple of weeks ago, I was asked to write a play plot as ‘homework’ for the women’s writers group I’m a member of. The idea was to ensure your play had a plot. This may seem obvious but, apparently, writers’ often have great characters and ideas but have given no real thought to how their story will develop. I’m sure this can be the case with other types of writing too. To be honest, I did have an idea for a short play that was in essence an idea about two characters so it was good to sit down and think about how to develop it.
When I sat down and thought about it, the plot itself came quite easily. This isn’t always the case. Sometimes you have a great idea but don’t quite know what to do with it. You run it around your head in hundreds of different scenarios but none of them are quite right. The plot is nowhere as near exciting as the idea or character you can see so clearly in your mind. When this happens you just have to put it away with the other ‘don’t quite work yet’ ideas and thoughts, and hope that one day, in the future, you’ll take it out, dust it down and get to use it.
At the following meeting we had to read our plots to the rest of the group. This was a little daunting but, as I was happy with my plot, it wasn’t too intimidating. However, the next assignment we were given did intimidate me. The next assignment was to write a scene for our play. Now, I haven’t written a play since I was about ten years old. That’s a long time ago. Also, I’ve previously written in this blog about the difference between writing short stories and a play-script. A play is essentially dialogue. That’s it really, apart from a few stage directions. It is down to your words and the actors’ interpretation of these to bring your work to life. This is in contrast to prose which allows you the literary freedom to describe in detail the setting and inner most thoughts and the past of your characters.
I decided to write the second scene from my play, which was a monologue for the main character – the heroine of my piece. Actually, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Once I started writing, the words came fast and furiously. It was like having someone describe the life and feelings with me in a conversation. I didn’t have to worry about long descriptions of where the character was and how they got to be there, or why they felt the way they did. It was all written in dialogue, with subtle hints and allusions to what had gone on in the character’s past. That’s not to see it was easy. I’m not saying playwriting is easier than writing prose. Goodness, no!
I was quite pleased with it when I had finished but then went through that whole gamut of emotions I experience when I have written something. I’m sure most of you know the ones. They range from “Hey, that’s pretty good. I’m pleased with that” to “God, that’s shit. Why am I bothering?” In the end, I decided to leave it and take it to my next group meeting and see what everyone else thought. I packed my scene away into a plastic wallet and tried to think little of it until I got to the theatre.
When I went to my next meeting, I realised that this was a big mistake. Firstly, I began to think that I should have written the scene as a two-hander instead of a monologue. It suddenly made a lot more sense to have a second character to bounce my heroine’s ideas and thoughts off. Secondly, I had to read the scene to the rest of the group. Thirdly, I had to read the scene to the rest of the group. Fourthly I had to…you get the idea. It’s one thing to read a brief plot outline to your peers. It is quite another to read the actual words you have written for your main character. Talk about putting yourself on the line.
As it happened, I didn’t have to read my scene out to the others. Another member of the group did instead. This was not because I had had some sort of stage fright. It was because it was deemed more worthwhile for me to hear someone else read it as I would be able to hear where it was working and where it wasn’t more clearly. To me, this idea seemed a whole lot worse than reading it out loud myself. I now had to hand my work to someone else, get them to read and interpret it, and act it out to the rest of the group. Doubly embarrassing! However, I didn’t get too much time to dwell on it as one fear was replaced by another. I was asked to read out a part in someone else’s three-handed scene. I’m no actor so this filled me with dread too. I was deeply beginning to regret joining this group.
When we had all had time to read through our given scripts and for a quick rehearsal, we reconvened to listen to one another’s work. My work was to be read out first. This was good and bad news. On the plus side, it would be done and dusted and out of the way leaving me free to enjoy the other writers’ scripts. On the minus side, it meant I had to listen to my work now. I wasn’t sure I was ready for this but it was too late to back out now. The lady who was reading my script started and I could feel my heart beating faster. My palms were sweaty. Who am I kidding? My whole body was sweating! I was sure I was blushing and I couldn’t look anyone in the face. In fact, I spent the whole time looking at my knees.
But, the lady who runs our group was right, it was a useful exercise. I could hear which bits worked. I could also hear which didn’t and where it went on too long. I knew how to change it to make it sound a little better. Not perfect yet by a long shot (there again, is any writing perfect to the writer?) but I knew where to go with it. And I’m not sure I would have been able to do this if I had read it out myself. I also discussed the fact that I thought a second character was needed, to which I was told it didn’t. It did work as a monologue. I guess I should have more conviction in myself. I spend far, far too much time self-doubting. Sometimes, I guess, we have to put ourselves out there and take a chance. Living life in your head maybe safer, but it’s nowhere near as exciting. Now, pass me the Valium.