Playwriting – Swinging door writing process

 As I have begun earnestly playwriting again, it is amazing how much I can write on my own, and how much I need readers to not only give the dialogue a voice, but provide feedback on what is being said and what is missing.

I’ve been using google+ to connect with college theatre friends to read my script aloud. This has been a wonderful reunion and a great way to have folks give feedback without having to set up a formal script reading session, especially in the early stages. We can hang out in our pajamas, after our kids go to bed, and read the script together.

Last time, I justified all the criticism, explained why I did what I did, and talked them through it. Tonight, I decided the first 20 minutes after they read it, I would let them talk about it and I would keep my mouth shut. I had gotten that idea from one of the podcasts I listened to (see my prior post.) When you cannot defend your choices, you cannot explain the text, and you leave the text naked and bare – just as it would arrive to the director or to the actor. They discussed it, what they enjoyed about the first draft compared to the second draft, what was missing and what was new that helped this version.

In writing, you need to know when to shut and when to open the door, a tool I am just beginning to learn. Stephen King, in his book ‘On Writing’, states that you ‘write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.’ I believe that is true, but in playwriting, it is even more cyclical. The beautiful art of theatre is that it is a group art. Actors interact with one another, interact with the director, the set, the lighting, the costumes. No one can create a play alone, and even writing a play cannot be done alone.

I may circle in alone for the first draft, but soon it must see the light of day for feedback and a voice. Scripts are meant to be read aloud to be understood – they are not meant to be occupied in head space like a novel. Scripts must be clear, concise, and paint a word picture while giving the actor room to breathe and make their own conclusions.

But the script must stand on its own, as I will not be there to explain it. I liken it to running a leg of a race where you must pass the baton to the next set of runners; you give them enough to run with, and a direction to go, but exactly where and what they do with it is their choice. The only way to make sure your words are clear is to be in the cycle of writing, having it read aloud, and re-writing. It is exhausting, but rewarding work. It is both alone, formed in self discipline, but also a communal activity, a sharing of knowledge and love of theatre and the ideas. The door must shut and open, and circle round again, but the feedback, and the voices, are necessary.

1 Comment

  1. As I read this blog, can't help but wonder if this process is similar to that of a music composer (i.e., Sara H.). It is also the process of a teacher and a lifelong learner…cycles of learning that loop again and again as new information builds on the what was learned previously…and so it goes!

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