Sunday, April 21, 2013

The role of 'conflict' in your play.

Triumphant smile vs. Humiliating Defeat
Assassin/Traitor? vs. Hero?
Your play has but one character: a solo performance.  Nothing historic such as John Wilkes Booth and the morality of assassination, or Harry S. Truman on whether or not to use the atomic bomb.  It's just John Smith... alone on the stage.  What drives this character, John Smith, to tell you his story?  Is it the story of his life?  If so, what makes John Smith think that you, the Does', and the Jones' in the audience will want to sit and listen to his life story?  Does John want to tell you the inner feud he is having between his choice of automobile models he is confronted with by the lot salesman wearing peacock blue slacks with a white belt, offensively plaid sport jacket and white sneakers?  If he's performing stand up, that would be a source of comedy (or is that drama-dy?).  No.  John is going to tell you about the decision he must make before it is too late: "Should I have the open heart surgery?"  He's going to tell you whether he has the guts, whether he has the money or the deductible, whether he can endure the suffering, whether he has faith in his surgeons, but wait John hasn't told all!..... should he take an experimental pill recommended by his "second opinion" doctor?  Now!  We have dramatic 'conflict'!  But... (not to make lightly of open heart surgery), but, it's just inner conflict: it has to come out.  Enter Mary Smith, wife of John Smith.  John and Mary have discussed John's diagnosis and treatment.  Mary thinks John should have the surgery.  She thinks it's dangerous, painful and expensive, but worth every peril, pang and penny.   Yes!  More dramatic 'conflict'!  John is fearful of someone, even an experienced and knowledgeable surgeon, using a scalpel to cut open his chest and then to use a bolt cutter on his sternum to access his heart.  "It's just all to painful, perilous and pricy," says John.  "I swallow the pill with some orange juice to aide the break-up of the compound and voila!, miracle of miracles, three months later I'm walkin' around twenty years younger.  (...or not.   Ah!  More dramatic 'conflict'!)   And at one-tenth the cost and no pain."
Conflict rises with every relationship: lovers, business associates  such as competitive actors, horse races, et cetera.  Look around your life.  Husband and wife: Do they invite weird uncle Harry to John Juniors Bar Mitzvah?  Suzan turns a corner: bumps into a cop, cop arrests her for hindering an investigation.  Skip a rope: trip and fall skinning your knee, causing an infection, causing amputation, et cetera.   Brothers sharing a bicycle: Who's turn today?...  after they beat the crap out of each other and destroy the bicycle in the tumult (that's an antiquated Romney word: conflict!)?  I know this all reads rather simple, even silly, but 'little conflicts' find themselves within 'larger conflicts' whether you or your characters recognize them for what they are worth in your larger story,... or not.  You may even determine that they are ascending conflicts leading you through your character's arc.
Keep writing, but remember... "Writing is re-writing."

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Critical reading.

Today we read Brenda's first draft of her first play, "House of Cards".  She took scrupulous and copious notes.  One of the most important elements of playwriting, and there are many, is continuity;  Continuity of character traits, Continuity of geography, Continuity of reactions of characters to each other, Continuity of time, Continuity of plot, et cetera.
Does your character 'Mary' continue down the path of alcoholism, and choose to prostitute herself when she's fired from her job?  Or does she join AA and rise on her 'arc'.  Whether your characters be normal human beings (Define normal human being*, I dare ya'.) or they show traits of mental disorder, agoraphobia, Borderline Personality Disorder, Bi-polar, post traumatic stress disorder, et cetera, they must continue unless they choose, or you, as the 'boss' playwright, give them another path.  Using the aforementioned conditions can be tricky, because BPD victims can change their behavior in a heartbeat.   "How dare you leave me!  Get out!"  Alcoholics can be great actors.  Bi-polar victims alternate between mania and depression.  There are a wide range of mental disorders where your characters can find themselves, or not, and your audience is lost, wondering, and wandering, looking for the exit at intermission.
Your characters can be at home behind the counter of a diner, or in a prison cell, or in a bingo parlor.   Establish your character's geography.  When you take 'Luke' out of his 'home', say behind a skid row bar and in the next scene put him in a Hilton hotel room, find a good reason and time for the change: don't confuse your audience or you won't have them very long.
Continuity of character interaction:  'Jill' hates it when 'Jack' is kind and gentle to her one moment and in the next moment he is treating her cruelly and in-humanly and she is loving it (barring some mental disorder for both characters) the audience will be confused and out of focus.  You have lost their confidence in your ability to hold them.
If your character, in her dialogue states, "Today is Friday.  I'll see you at noon for lunch.  We'll have tuna on rye.", but the calendar on her office wall says it's Tuesday, and the clock reads one pm, you've lost your audience again.
If Henry, fourteen years old, tells Mercedes that his brother died sixty years ago in World War II, you've derailed the audience again.  How old was Henry's brother when he died of his wounds on the beaches of Iwo Jima?  How old was mama and dada when they had Henry.  Yeah, I know.  They adopted Henry.
From when will you stop with the abuse of continuity already?  And you haven't even established that I'm yiddish.  (From Brooklyn?  No, Crown Heights.)
When your publisher sends you a proof?  No.  You will still find errors in continuity... : verbs, here and there a comma, colons, pronouns, adverbs, accent grav, et cetera.
Writing is re-writing.
Keep writing!

*To be a normal human being are you devoid of one or more or all of the following; schizoid, Pyromania, psychologically imbalanced, mentally ill, Bi-polar, PTSD, et cetera?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

On character development and Lajos Egri.

Today I met with a newborn playwright.  By "newborn" I mean she has never written a play.  Prior to our meeting, I recommended she read the book I consider "The Bible" for writers, be they essayists or novelist, but most definitely for the playwright: The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri.
"Examining a play from the inside out, Lajos Egri starts with the heart of any drama" or comedy: it's characters.  Good dramatic writing hinges on the playwright's characters and their relationships.  Together their intent is to move the story forward.  At the age of ten, Lajos wrote his first three-act play.
Like Lajos Egri, I am a firm believer in character development.  I believe that a well-defined character will, as Omar Khayyam in Poem #545,   The Moving Finger Writes; and having Having Writ,The Testament of Omar Khayyam (1907) by Khayyam, Omar/ Alexander, Louis Charles, to lead the playwright by the finger, if you will, through the story that the character wants the playwright to write.
Character development is achieved by what the character has to say, how she says it and when he speaks, or not.  What that character says or does not say will have consequences.  How that character voices his dialogue will affect other characters who in turn, because by definition, she, too, has the power and force (so she thinks) to move the finger and move on, to lead the playwright in her direction.  When and whether the playwright gives voice to a character also affects the development of other characters.  It's a game each character plays: with the playwright as the foilist, with or without the button.
Remember: Writing is Re-writing.