Chaos & The Dancing Star

Working with John Yorke today in a class at Drama Centre helped me hit on something. I will post more on what John’s teaching has done for me at a later date, for now this quick thing.

An audience does like to work. An audience likes to answer questions. The longer you leave the answer, the greater the enjoyment – the more an audience will supply their own logic and coherence.

I write for several media, and the way I start is different depending on the story and the way I want to organise it. The demands of the medium are to be respected.

My departure point with Blood Leaves was to get into the chaos and bring it to the surface – not to impose too much order too soon. I think where I am going now is a challenge to myself.

I want to be my own audience. First I had to create the chaos, and follow my own clues to a destination – an end. I had an ending, I think that was my only certain when I sat down to write the piece.

Along the way to that end I had to strew a lot of wreckage, or plant a lot of seeds, depending how you want to look at it.

Going into the redrafts I have to be vigourous with myself – I have to make all those edges fit neatly into each other. Not too neatly, but neatly enough that I can craft the story. I am my own audience in this respect, piecing together the story, delaying the conclusion as far as I can to build the climax, imposing an order that doesn’t come too soon. Not until I’ve done enough work to have something to compose.

I hope this journey of mine, from chaos to order, is reflected in the work and brings an audience the same battery of feelings it is bringing me.

Blood Leaves – working from notes

I sent off Blood Leaves to Euphoric Ink for notes.

I’m going to talk about them here, partly because the notes were brilliant, and partly because I had to wait about a week before I knew what to do with them. It was important to step back from the writing, and allow the notes to do the work. My usual approach to notes is to treat them very objectively, and balance them against my understanding of the work. To do that I had to step back, trust that the play would be alright with my step back, and give room for the response to yield to a new way forward.

I am glad to say, that was exactly the right thing to do. Taking time away to consider the response gave me lots of ideas to use.

At this stage of the writing I’m working very instinctively, hurling things on to the page as the connections form. I’m getting into the thick of it, letting my emotions do the work, and saving the craft for later. It’s messy work, but really important to get ideas down. To get on the page as much as I can, with the objective of having lots of material to refine later in the process. For that reason, the notes, coming as they do at this point in the process, are a salient reminder to organise the dramatic elements of the story – to ensure it is active. To ensure there is want, conflict, event – there is structure – there are goals – objectives – dialogue that is active.

I’m hoping that my craft has gone a bit deeper, and while I’m not suggesting it is there for free, I am at a stage with my work where I think craft is becoming instinctual. I’ve been focusing on it for over a year at Drama Centre, and certain elements have certainly penetrated. The learning has connected to my instincts and it appears spontaneously – but some things are more instinctual than others – and later drafts will require the application of technique and craft.

That time is now – I can trust that the raw materials for my story are in place. Now it’s time to organise the elements of the story into dramatic action – activate what’s passive, and static, organise the story, look to the dialogue and ask if it is using conflict, revealing action, moving forward.

So then the notes:

The readers are not clear what the play is about nor what I am trying to say.

You never want to be obscure as a writer, you are telling a story – if people don’t relate to the story they have been lost. On the other hand I’m certainly of the opinion that some things are meant to be experienced not necessarily understood. I am a big admirer of plays you experience, that allow you access to experiences that are beyond the ordinary.I look for the big inner journey, before I look for the moral – the sententious side of things have a place, but first the bread then the morals. We’re conditioned from a very young age to identify the moral, it is part of the contract of engaging with story.You can’t break the contract for no reason, or without offering an alternative. Would we be interested in the moral if it didn’t resolve the central question of the story – the journey? Probably not. We would be weary of them, we’d feel preached to, put upon. We would not be able to identify with the characters, to transfer ourselves into their trials and tribulations. It’s important then I think to make the dialogue dramatic – something is being chased – there are positive and negative outcomes to the success or failure of the chase. The characters must be invested in their goals, without an investment in them they have no reason to pursue, and they must locate these goals in each other. Drama only works when characters have invested each other with the ability to grant or withhold their deepest desires and wishes. So then, it would make sense to be really clear, at least in your own mind, what the characters in your story are investing in each other. Taking the note forward made me really focus on what each of the characters need from each other, what they are pursuing, and the reasons for granting or withholding these needs. Finally, I would like to say that an audience, in my experience, like a bit of work. People do enjoy having drawn their own conclusions, and they don’t want a writer to tell them what to think or feel, or certainly what it means – at the expense of their own thoughts on the matter. It wouldn’t do for me to go too far in the opposite direction, and furnish the audience with all the answers. There must be a point where the work meets the audience and what I am saying is filtered through the unique perspective of the audience. That synthesis is the pulse of the whole thing. I don’t want to be in a room with people who think exactly like I do, the difference can be painful, but it is always invigorating.

The imagery of the dispersal of evil like shards of glass, which each one of us carries around in our heads and that, when brought together recreates evil all over again, is very strong and an interesting philosophy – but it is not dramatised in this play by the characters.

This insight was again very useful, because instinctively what I’m doing is working with a concept. But concepts are not dramatic if they are not activated. Concepts have to motivate characters, it’s possible, as we know, to kill in the name of a concept. Money is a concept that has become capable of anything really, and some might say our investment and activating of this concept is pushing us ever closer to destruction. We have the ability to take something that isn’t real, and use it as if it were. So then, I looked at what I was saying with this concept, and I decided that the characters would need to invest it with a belief – some would believe it worked in a certain way, and some would decide it worked in another way entirely. Through the difference in belief in how this concept works you can create a conflict. This conflict has a currency if you link it to a need, which each of the characters can grant or withhold for each other. Then you can go to war, as they each fight for their unique belief in this concept. This note helped me identify a central theme in the work, which I do believe allows me to organise the story effectively.

Exposition
As a writer I am fascinated by the influence of the past on the present. You have to be careful with this, as it can pull the momentum of your story back. Theatre needs to happen in the moment – expositon doesn’t work on a story level – it’s not driving us forward. It doesn’t really work for actors either, it pulls them out of the immediacy they need to really live. The notes asked me to think about how a story from the past could become relevant to the momentum of the story – the drive forward.This challenge was a joy to deal with, and I believe it has it’s place now in the narrative. It changes the way the characters relate to each other, and it makes it possible for them to continue their journey. Combined with a switch of tenses it has a per formative quality it was previously missing.

Rules of the World
The notes asked me to be clear about the rules of the world I am creating. The only answer I have to this is to look at the truthfulness – if it feels possible to me then it can happen. I will question it continuously – this note will be a slow burn for me.

Language
The notes asked me to consider more naturalistic dialogue – to create an illusion of reality. This actually pushed me further into focusing on the idiolect of one of the characters. I feel if I can really catch his way of talking, I will have a strong contradistinction between his world and the world he has found himself in. Then maybe I am creating a convention that an audience can respect.

Character Trajectory
The notes asked me to develop the trajectory for the characters – to make it stronger, bigger, and more evidently the result of their interactions. Coming as it did towards the end of the notes, I feel I have some ideas about how to do that.

As always Euphroic Ink help me identify what I want to say, and push me towards going deeper.

Companies to look out for

This year has been an opportunity to get together with some lovely companies doing good work. I will add to the list as the year progresses, so check back in for tips on who to look out for.

Look out for The East End Literary Salon currently running out of Ophelia in Dalston. I had the pleasure of seeing several rehearsed readings, including a little something of mine. There was some really strong writing in evidence, from the dreamy to the down right dirty.

If you are ever in Croydon you could do worse than check into Matthews Yard, a great cafe with a nice space for arts attached to it. DVM Productions run Scratch nights there once a month, and I’ve been to several of them. There is always something really interesting, and the coffee and beer are really really good.

Scratch That Hackney are to die for. They provide a great evening of music, slams, performance art, theatre operating out of the sublime Hackney Picturehouse. Gorgeous people doing high end scratching.

If you are wondering where to go for amazing women doing brilliant work look out for Whoop N Wail who operate out of the lovely Waterloo East. They produce work that passes the Bechdel Test, and it is never less than inspiring.