Monday, 28 November 2011

Spread the Word 3

In the session we began to explore structure.

Branwen Davies the Associate Tutor began with a small exercise on sketching out what happens in a scene.

The idea in this exercise is to focus on drawing out plot and character without thinking too much about the actual dialogue.

We were asked to create 2 characters, to think about the relationship between the two characters, think about the setting or location of the characters. We had to think of a conflict so that they want something from each other. We were told that all dialogue had to use no more than 3 words.

I used my two main characters from the play that I’m developing for the Spread The Word project effectively for the opening scene in the play.

Richard has just found out that she is using personal details of their life in her stand up comedy routine, Hedydd needs him to leave as she is about to start a group therapy session with clients due to arrive any minute.

We were given ten minutes to write the scene and I came up with the following,

R: Feel so betrayed
H: Stop whingeing.
R: How could you?
H: Get out.
R: How could you?
H: What’s the problem?
R: The problem!
H: It’s just jokes.
R: My life.
H: Our life.
R: It’s private.
H: It’s your fault.
R: It’s wrong.
H: They’ll be here.
R: I’m not leaving.
H: Get out now
R: Never again.
H: If I want/
R: /it’s over/
H: it’s been over
R: I love you
H: I hate you.
R: I hate you
H: I hate myself.

It’s easy to see how you can quickly create an outline for a scene moving things forward using this technique.

We then looked at scenes that everyone had written based on the overheard dialogues. It was great to see the individual voices emerging, the differences in approach and the things that had attracted each writer to the different pieces of dialogue.

We then began to look at the idea of Time and Space in a play; open and closed time, open and closed space. We talked about the difference that these impose on plays, such as the energy created by closed time but complications that come with closing time or the expositional demands caused by choosing open. Not forgetting disrupted time - two different timescales and disconnected time - different storylines happening in same space.

I have a tendency to head for disrupted and disconnected but at the moment I'm trying to force myself into one space and time so I'm closing them both off and seeing what happens.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Spread The Word 2

For the second session Sarah Woods had asked us to bring along a couple of pages of overheard dialogue to share. This is a brilliant exercise and something that every writer should try to do regularly. It shouldn’t really be a surprise that if you want a lesson in writing real conversation then listen to real conversation.

Listen to the pattern and rhythms in the way people speak, listen to how accents inflect the sentences, listen for the words that are specific to an accent, listen to how real conversation undercuts, repeats, erupts and explodes.

The world around us is full of incredible characters with magical stories and all we had to do was listen. Well listen and frantically scribble into a notebook.

Studying real conversation the depth of a character leaps out within a few words . Sarah Woods told us, and I love this expression, -Characters are like a cat that’s been dragged through a hedge, it comes through with bits of history and situation attached to it. It’s what we all should be aiming to do, drag characters through a hedge.

We looked closely at how often real speech is littered with repetitions. Repetition can be used for humour and for fear. The rule for repetition is repeating something 3times builds an idea but if we repeat something 5 times it’s a sign of madness.
Real conversation though can be confusing, creating dialogue is about finding the balance between creating real dialogue that immediately brings a character to life and clarifying the situation.

It was also clear to see that people don’t just speak, in real conversation we are motivated to speak for a reason. We should find the reason for a character to speak and not just force them, in the same way we shouldn’t force words into their mouth for the sake of exposition. How often do you think, that character wouldn’t say that?

We played a character creation game. We created a character by answering the following
What age are they?
What sex?
What ethnicity?
What is their name?
What distinguishing feature do they have?
What are they wearing?
What secret do they have?
What is their favourite food?
What memory do they have?
What is their dream?
What is their worse nightmare?
Where are they at this moment?
What are they saying?

Sarah then introduced us to the above chart, a way to explore characters in further depth.

If we look at the character objectives. What is the overall objective? What are the smaller objectives that drive a character at an individual level. I like this chart, it feels like a great way to get more energy and depth into a play.

If we develop from this into our story and plot, the characters will have motivations in the background that drive the actions and build the energy of the play. We can develop moments like a secret revealed in anger and build of that impacts on the audience. Paying attention to this depth behind it all creates multi-layered characters. If we take all these elements we can draw it into a timeline which would have eruptions stemming from the revelations.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Spread The Word 1.2

So carrying on in my attempt to properly answer those questions.

What do you feel is the role of the audience?
The audience is everything. The fact that an audience are there, experiencing the writing live, in the space with the play should never be forgotten. I get very angry about plays that ignore that element and I also get annoyed with plays or performances that push the line too far. As an audience I want to be comfortably unsettled. I think theatre will always have the ability to effect people. The audience are part of the play, they are the final piece in the jigsaw puzzle.

Do you have recurring themes or a specific style?
I always used to find this question very difficult largely because I would think, what should I say, what should my themes be, what should my style be? It’s all part of recognising and knowing your voice as a writer, if you know your voice then you know what themes will recur and also what style you voice requires. Your voice will be distinctive and in being distinctive it will have a style. The themes that haunt you, should haunt your writing and if they don’t then it’s quite likely that your writing is lifeless and lacking passion.

So what are my recurring themes? I am constantly drawn to “unusual” lifestyles and “traditional” lifestyles and I “” those words because it’s all in the eye of the beholder or the pen of the Daily Mail journalist really. But what interests me is the clash of extremes and what is supposedly normal!

I also find myself with a recurring theme of isolation, that feeling of not fitting in, of trying, of failing, of finding a way to “fit in”.

Also women, women just has to be a recurring theme for me. I love to write about women, and the things that effect women on a daily, trivial level. Women that don't conform, women that break taboos, women that don't do what they're supposed to do.

I spent a long time feeling there was something lacking in my writing because I wasn’t interested in the BIG themes but then realising that it’s simply part of my voice, themes and style that I am interested in the minutia and that I don’t need to apologise for it.

And what is my style? Heightened realism is definitely the style which is at the forefront of most of my work but also I like the clash of expressionism and the poetic into the realism. I find myself drawn to finding the fragments of poetic word and moment which conflict with the stark reality in which they are housed. I want to find magic, supernatural and the extraordinary on a bed of realism, nature and the mundane.

Do you have areas that you’re strong in?
Dialogue and characterisation is the writing element that comes most naturally and if the characterisation isn’t working and the dialogue isn’t flowing then the character is in the wrong story or I’ve been lazy or tried to cut corners and just not worked enough on it.

What do you think you can do better?
I think as a writer we should always be striving to do everything better. I think it is our job to be seeking ways to improve every aspect of our writing and also to always strive to find the way to tell the particular story as well as we can possibly tell it. So honestly I think I can do everything better.

What do you hope to gain from the course?
A commission from the Sherman Cymru would be nice. But certainly I want to get to get through to the final stage and have the experience of working a play through with a cast and director. I want to gain new ideas and approaches to writing theatre. I want to make myself a better writer.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Spread the Word 1.1 Why do I write plays?

As part of the Spread The Word programme we were asked a set of questions, over the next few blogs I want to address those questions more fully.

Why do I write plays? I think in the session I said something about liking to tell stories and I always have written plays then I felt the question bothering me afterwards because I kept thinking about things I wanted to say, well shout in fact.

I write plays because I don’t just like telling stories I need to. Stories fascinate me, people fascinate me. I love those moments when something ordinary collides with something extraordinary and it leaps up at you and shouts - write me I’m a great story.

But why do I write plays. I’ve always written but I’ve not always written plays. I always wanted to be a novelist. In fact back in Fallen Angel days I wrote two adaptations (one that toured the UK), because someone needed to do it and I knew I could but I had no interest in being a playwright. I wanted to see my novel on a bookstore shelf and that was my driving ambition. But then back in 2003 I did a creative writing MA at Liverpool John Moores and as part of the course we had to do one module assessment in a different medium to our chosen medium for the final assessment. I wrote a TV play to get it out of the way. In the process of getting it out of the way I fell in love with scriptwriting. I realised that my novels were littered in dialogue. That I was obsessed with characters voices. As others struggled with dialogue it was the part that came the most naturally for me. From that point I wrote more assessments and material in script – a radio play, a film, a theatre play. All of them bad, well some were okay and some were appalling. But I got on with it, writing scripts, reading about writing, going on courses - learning as much as I could about scriptwriting.

I got feedback from various sources and I never managed to get it right. I never managed to get all the elements working at the same time – characters, structure, story, idea. One thing would always let the piece down. It became frustrating, repetitive. I made it on to a few longlists. I abandoned theatre writing completely after what I perceived to be very bad feedback. I re-read it recently and it was actually largely positive but my inexperience led me to make the new writers mistake of focusing on the negative.

The scripts spanned a vast range of styles and ideas which I always thought was indicative of my being eclectic in my tastes. I like lots of different movies, books, plays, TV, radio so it made sense that my writing would also reflect that but then I realised, quite recently, that I was trying too hard. I was trying too hard to get a script accepted somewhere, anywhere. Somewhere along the way I lost my voice. The last 2 years have been a journey in rediscovering my voice and it’s happened through two elements; theatre writing – returning to the world that I know best and revisiting my writing about Golborne – returning to the world of my roots.

Apologies as always for the pretentions stuff about “voice”, “roots” and “worlds”. If I read this on a blog I’d be tempted to shout get out from your own arse. So if you’re thinking that, I’m with you after all I’m from Lancashire and I’m a plain speaking lass who doesn’t like bullshit.

So why do I write plays? I write plays because I want other people to see, hear, watch my plays because I want people to see what I see, hear what I hear. I believe I can make people see things a little differently and think about the world in a slightly different way. I believe I can make people behave differently. Don’t get me wrong I’m fully away I’m not JFK or Martin Luther King but I can make a small difference. And I believe that in today’s world small differences can make a difference.

So it’s all well and good learning the craft and know all the technical stuff about writing but in a writing world were your script and your voice has to shout above a pile of thousands of other voices, it’s always worthwhile remembering why you write. Writing because you’re good at it is not enough, writing because you like telling stories is not enough, writing because you want fame and/or money is just plain stupid.

Ask yourself why you write plays, whether for film, radio, theatre or TV, and make sure you like the answer because if you don’t then why the hell are you expecting anyone to pay attention to the plays you write.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Spread the Word begins

The first session of the Spread the Word programme took place on Monday. The programme is part of a Wales-wide programme for emerging writers effectively it is the Sherman Cymru new writing team on tour, working with new writers in various regional art centres and theatre. In Aberystwyth it is being run with the Arts Centre. Eight writers were selected for a five week course (one evening session a week) followed by a lock in day at which we will have the opportunity to pitch a play and begin its development. Then, by February, we have to submit a play and four writers will be selected for a rehearsed reading with a professional cast and director.

I was really pleased to get through. It feels part of a building momentum that seems to be happening with my writing career at the moment. Certainly it seems as though things are heading in the right direction as opposed to the static, downward or circling trajectories that my writing career has been on for some time.

Sarah Woods is leading the course with Branwen Davies as Associate tutor. The first session started off at quite a pace which is understandable as we have a lot to get through in five weeks. First of all we did the introductory thing – which I hate. I know I need to get more comfortable about talking about myself as a writer and my writing but no matter how many times I do it I detest the experience. My mind goes blank and I struggle to remember even the basic things about my writing and then I spend the rest of the evening remembering all the things I should have said.

Sarah had a slightly different approach to us introducing ourselves. We split into pairs asked one another a set of questions and then introduced the other writer.

The questions were:-
Why do you write plays?
What do you feel is the role of the audience?
Do you have recurring themes or a specific style?
Do you have areas that you’re strong in?
What do you think you can do better?
What do you hope to gain from the course?
We talked these all through sharing what our partner had said, adding things when we felt we needed to expand. It was interesting to listen to the things that we have in common as writers and the differences.

More on these questions to follow because I think they such useful questions for writers to ask themselves on a regular basis that I wanted to address them in more detail.

We then moved on to talk about the elements of a play. We threw out suggestions and the flipchart was filled with words. Some words in green to indicate that they were key. Others in another colour to show that they were part of the elements that run at a deeper level flowing beneath the key green words. Some elements were contentious – with disagreements sparking about whether they were to be considered or not. Then we explored the links between them drawing lines between linking elements to confirm that everything links to everything else.

We talked about the elements being the building blocks or strata. We talked about things going wrong with the inclusion of the elements so that energy leaks from the play and a loss of drive within the play.

Finally Sarah told us a few playwriting methodologies.
Roy Williams – writes the whole play a story first.
Phyllis Nagy – sits in front of sport on television and just writes the play
David Edgar – 9 months of planning and developing then writes the play in 3 weeks
Alan Ayckbourn – writes the plays in a few weeks. Plucks the ideas from nowhere. Never gives them names only numbers. Over time the process of writing has become less complicated.
I love hearing about other writers processes. And on the whole I find that each of these processes makes perfect sense however Phyllis Nagy came as a bit of a shock. I did try this on Sunday and sat in front of the Grand Prix notebook on knee. But unfortunately sport on the television had the same effect as it usually did - I curled up and slept for an hour. Mind you then I felt quite refreshed and did a few hours of character development so maybe it worked in a roundabout way.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Beginnings - the end, or is it?

I haven’t had time to take a breath for quite some time now. Beginnings the first showcase of the writers group absorbed so much time but was definitely worth it. Not just from the point of view of seeing my own short play come to life but seeing the other eight plays come to life too. Back in May the group had it’s first meeting at which I suggested that we present an evening of short plays – the brochure deadline was close we had to make a decision. Everyone said yes and then last week nine new plays moved around a space and were introduced to an audience.

The evening was an incredible success – the writers most of them completely new to theatre loved seeing their plays performed, listening to their jokes getting laughs, watching their characters connect with an audience, watching their stories enthral an audience. All of them came away wanting to write more, wanting to write bigger plays, better plays.

The actors and directors without exception all told me they loved it so much they wanted to be involved in the next one. Interestingly a few of the actors spoke to me about how incredibly and unusually nervous they were because the writers were involved and they felt a deep need to perform the words and the play as the writers wanted. I was surprised by it but deeply moved that the actors involved felt so deferential to the writers. Maybe this is common, maybe I was just very lucky with my actors.

I set about wanting to create a project that put the writers at the forefront. Yes, theatre is a collaborative process and yes I was blessed that that such amazing performers and directors willingly gave their time to bring the plays to life. But yes, the writers were in the forefront, literally sitting in chairs at the front of the audience so that it could not be doubted that it was the writers ideas, the writers characters, the writers words that were the Beginning of what the audience was watching.

And now on to the next project. The Town with No Traffic Wardens, a showcase of separate plays whilst also trying to build the piece as a collaborative play that will work as a whole. I keep being told that collaborative plays are at best problematic, at worse impossible. But I know the process will be a valuable learning experience for everyone involved and gives us great material for writing exercises so I think we’ll give it a go anyway. I have every confidence that Aberystwyth will offer forth it’s stories and give us great material, after all this is a town where you can find a shark illegally parked on double yellow lines.