Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Well, lordy, it's about time, eh? :)

So sorry. I have so been not posting here for nearly two months. Humblest apologies! (And thanks to Blogging So You Think You Can Dance for linking me--a big shout out to a great site that's all about my favorite show. :)) Anyway, you don't want to hear about how my physical therapy for my back hasn't been working (I start again tomorrow morning; maybe I'll have better luck this time!) or about how Thanksgiving rather sucked (my poor niece Casey got really sick and was in the hospital, so only my mother, father, and I ate dinner together after my mom had prepared this amazing meal, and decorated the house so nicely, etc., etc.), right? Okay, so we'll move right along.

I continue to revise, tweak, and think about my play for class, DISCOVERY. The biggest issue continues to be that the main characters have a similar voice, b/c they have a similar wants (scared of being hurt; wanting to find someone to connect with). I may not be able to resolve this prior to my presenting night in two weeks. I can only write it how I know to and then it's open to discussion. I'm working on another play about a barista and her customer (not like WEDNESDAYS, my cafe play) and shoes, and it could be much different than other pieces I've worked on (I wanted to go to the surreal place, and I *never* go there), but it's rather tough going, though I plan to put more time into it this weekend. And I've bought a couple of new books, one by Jonathan Safran Foer and his wife, Nicole Kraus, and reading always keeps me invigorated and helps get my mind off my bloody back...sorry, no more back talk!

I have posted to my listserv each week a summary of my class at Harvard. Rather than rehash, let me just repost some of those here (the ones I can actually find; I'll keep looking), for those of you who aren't on the listserv. :) Tonight's class went much better, though I still think Ken (the instructor) will hate my play (I guess I should say "have many problems with it"), and I'm up in two weeks, so I'll be sure to post about it right afterwards, if I'm up to it. :)

Anyway, here are the posts. Enjoy.

Conflicted Thoughts on Conflict
I want to thank ALL OF YOU for your insightful thoughts on what internal conflict means and how to get that across (or not write from that angle, probably showing some, or all of it, anyway). I really mean that. It gives me a lot of ideas on how to approach the writing exercise next week (which I find troublesome, but then again, I never used an outline to write my term papers in college and grad school) and the 10-15 minute play for the final project. It's an approach I *have* to take, and I don't like that way of writing. BUT I am willing to try, and we'll see if I a) decide that it's a helpful way to write a short play (or a scene for a longer play), or be) decide that it isn't an approach that I find helpful. But I won't know this, I suppose, until I try, and I either decide to use this way or discard it. I really did take the class to inspire me to write (it's certainly doing that). It's also getting me to think about writing in a different way. But I think (right now, anyway) to continually think about what someone is thinking and what someone else is thinking and then to continually think about it as a write. I am more of an intuitive writer. I come up with a theme or idea that inspires me, then the characters, and then the plot (or that action) that will advance the play and that will, likely, change the characters (although I'm not always sure both of them need to be changed, but maybe they are be/c the nature of their actions dictate this), and I do so unconsciously. This will certainly make me think about the play, but I really am reticent to spend too much time in my head (which I found was the problem I had with improv theatre).

On monologues. Anyway, mine was read last. Whether that was a good or bad thing (it wasn't intentional) is up for grabs, although we spent exactly four minutes on it, two to read it, and two to discuss it. Others had theirs read twice, but mine only got one reading, b/c we were running out of time and because I don't think Ken was particularly interested in discussing it. This could be a) because I know how to write a monologue, b) Enough people had their monologues critiqued so we got the idea by then, or c) I had totally botched the assignment (naturally, I and one other student were the only ones who wrote him about the play in its entirety and therefore I was one of two students who didn't *get* the assignment). I thought that we were supposed to use the monologue to basically summarize the play (though I don't know how it ends--which is a *good* thing--so I left it ambiguous). However, we were supposed to use it to have one of the characters address someone to give us point of view, or to show how conflict would be expressed in the play, or to show how a monologue is representative of the entire play without actually encapsulating the entire play. This I did not do.

Every week, I leave there feeling more stupid than the week before. (This is probably just me; the other students don't seem to think I'm stupid, and a couple have said they have enjoyed my work.) I think that I wrote a good monologue. No, it's not a typical monologue. I wasn't trying to *write* a typical monologue. I was trying to, as I said, summarize the play through one of the character's eyes (and he's a djay, so his audience was his...you know...audience). You could also say I wrote it as an internal monologue, but the point was that we learned about him (he's stalking a listener) and her (she's stalking him back), and the tone changes as the persona breaks down. So...um...why did this not work? Because I had given it away?! (Plus I hadn't revealed the resolution, b/c I don't know what it is yet!) Deep sigh. AND.. tonight we learned.our play has to contain at least one moment where someone sings or music is introduced (fine, it's at a radio station, and I asked him about copyright infringement, and he said it wouldn't be an issue if only a couple of lines of the lyrics were used, so I guess I was wrong about that), and there has to be a revelation of some sort (of course), and...there has to be a swordfight! (We can decide what means and how it plays out.)

In summary, I'm not quite understanding Ken's assignments. Why is he putting these sort of rules into our plays? Is he just testing us? Is he giving us parameters to help us be more creative? Is he trying us to write with humor? I mean, I don't get it. But I will simply write the play and hope for the best. I am motivated. I am just not sure I will be able to fulfill whatever expectations he has of me or of us. If I write a strong play, one that I am satisfied with, that will do.

Tonight's breakdown, also known as a synopsis (summary?) of tonight's class, though I do not think I am supposed to use the word synopsis.

We began by listening to and being asked about two monologues. I absolutely understand that a monologue should have a specific voice and be directed toward a particular audience, but does it have to be a representation of the play? I guess I mean, can we read into a play from just hearing one character's monologue? To be honest, I am not sure what monologues (in plays, in context, not as a self-contained piece) are supposed to do in the first place. Comments?

Then the first student, brave student Sarah, had her brand spanking new play critiqued. There are lots of ground rules, which I am sure will shock you (and which I think is typical), but what I did like, after the reading, is the popcorn speed round, where each listener had to list one idea or word or anything that popped out at him/her. I first used Sarah's dialogue, but then changed it as I begun to wonder why one of the characters seemed underdeveloped and proposed that perhaps D. was a part of Malik and was not in fact a separate character but a manifestation of his younger self (and "Opportunity" was a metaphor for what he might achieve if he sold out, which he decides not to do). Or not. Anyway, after the lightening round, we begin our discussion of the piece (typically, there are two, but there was only one tonight, so Sarah got more time), which he preferred we not read but listen to during the reading. Since that doesn't work for me (I lose focus), I read it. This is boring to you, but I'll simply add that we got to ask Sarah questions, which she did not get to answer, and then she got to ask us questions, I think, but it was mostly focused on what we needed clarification. I like the way Ken runs the critique. The only thing I have trouble with--again--is his insistence on inner conflict (what did a character want, and did he achieve it) and his value (e.g, did he change from honest to dishonest, loyal to disloyal, etc.) and why. I just do not like to write this way, and certainly not until I'm in the revision stage (well into it).

I did finish the first draft of my play today. I do not think Ken will like it--it is naturalistic and probably doesn't have enough inner conflict--but I have time to work on it. And then we'll see. Too bad the course is graded. I honestly do not believe in grading creative writing classes. Pass or fail is just fine with me.

Well, so, I think we're on week 11...wow...where does the time fly? Three weeks to D-day (or is that P-Day, presentation night?). I'm still trying to work things out am a bit confused, so I will try to be coherent, but you were warned. :) Stop reading now if you're in a hurry...

Anyway, as always there were two plays workshopped. One was very snappy, dialogue-wise, but the author didn't make the characters quite three-dimensional enough. (That said, I could totally seeing it doing well in a 10-minute play festival, because it was crisp and had a point and it was stronger than many of the plays I've seen produced. ;-)) Seriously, I think the problem with 10-minute plays, and I'm seeing it more than ever in the class, is really is the length of time, b/c it can be so constraining (says the writer who can't get past 10 pages!!!). Really, how much back story can you put in? How much can you push the situation? It's tough, and I'm not sure most audiences want see a deep short play (though that is another conversation, obviously). Anyway, I am not sure how much more she could do with the play, though Ken said she needed to make it more comic or more tragic, but that she had to make up her mind and then the characters would be more well-rounded. We talked about...wait for it...internal conflict within the play, and I *might* be getting a sense of it. I don't know if I would call it that, necessarily, but I do understand that if the characters have complexities (and Ken would call them the internal conflict, as I've said many times, e.g., I love my husband; I want my freedom), the play is more interesting. If two characters are explored in depth, and the third doesn't have an internal conflict (which I would say is more about wants/needs/results of same), then you have a lopsided play (if all three characters are equal partners, per se, and one isn't of interest b/c he hasn't...changed? Ken said I thought he thought this was the case with one of the characters, who just wasn't likeable enough for me to care about him). I think Ken is of the opinion that if a character is in the play, he better have something to do (even a baby or the off-stage husband needs to be more than symbolic). Maybe...

As I continue to think about this in regard to my play (and thank you to Shirley and Callie who have read it and offered feedback), I am less concerned about the djay and his listener having the same internal conflict (I am lonely. I am afraid of finding someone who might hurt me) than I am with them seeming enough like different people (Callie said they sounded as if they had the same voice). I think she meant that despite them speaking differently (literally; one, the djay, is hip hop, or trying to sound that way, one, the listener, is confident and carefree, or pretending to be), they sound the same, figuratively. So I will need to play around with this some more, I guess. One of my classmates told me NOT to worry about the work until after its presentation (he would be, er, not the first to offer that suggestion), but then suggested I meet with Ken soon thereafter, to ensure getting time to discuss. I am not sure I can defend the play, but that of course is not what I am expected to do. I need to ask the class questions about their take on it (you know the first one is 'what do you see as the internal conflict?' though I would rather not have to ask that) and then they ask me questions which I don't answer (this is the part I worry about). I did like the fact that Ken talked about tension tonight. I think that's easier for me to wrap my head around. What is the inherent tension (I would say relationship, actually--what do they both bring to the table?) between the two or more characters in a play? In play two, one character is flaky and absurd, if not completely believable, while the other, who is seeing the first woman's husband, is reactive and fairly bland (we don't understand why they are friends and why friend two would spend time with friend one if she was cheating on friend one; we could guess but we don't *know* because the play doesn't give us anything to help us summize). Maybe if you can't express the internal conflict (the I want; I want, and they are not necessarily in opposition, but are not being attained), then it means the characters doesn't have the want/need he/she needs to be well-defined.

I did want to add that the second writer said at the end of the critique, But why does it matter if the "reveal" happens in page nine of 11 and if some viewers get it before then? Ken said a few times that it would be boring for the audience if the reveal happened so quickly and then the stakes weren't heightened. The writer said that Ken was too informed to be a typical play-goer and, in effect, his opinion didn't really count. I thought it was pretty funny to come right out and tell your instructor that he's wrong b/c he's too smart! And the most amusing thing is that I didn't get the reveal until the final line!

Okay, well, thanks for letting me ramble on. As you can see, I am still trying to work this all out for me and my writing. It's a lot more complex than I'd thought!!! Maybe if I *get* it, I'll have less difficulty writing my plays. If you can *get it*. I go back and forth with this every week...