Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Worlds and Voices

I suppose this entry will be either of great interest to you or no interest at all, depending on your level of curiosity as to how someone who calls himself a writer writes.

As I mentioned two entries ago, I started work on a new play while up in Maine. Whether I'll actually finish it or not and whether it'll be any good or not is all still up in the air. But so far, I'm still working on it and haven't yet decided to give up on it. As of this entry, it does not have a title, nor is it in its true skeletal form (I'm still developing some of the muscles and meat, to continue this bizarre anatomy analogy). And it turns out that I'm writing this one a little differently than my previous efforts.

I didn't realize that I was working on this primarily backwards from my usual method until I had a few drinks with my friend Maggie last night. Maggie has helped out with some of the previous Nosedive shows, and has seen and read a number of my plays. Well, at the bar, I was telling her the kinda sorta concept for the new play and what I had written so far. I also told her the problems I was seeing with it (i.e., red flags further down the road that are making me not envy myself a month or so from now).

After I told her the basic premise of the play and what I had done with it so far, she said: "This sounds different than your other plays. I mean, with your other shows, you know your characters inside and out, and the world of the play comes second. With this one, it sounds like the other way around. You've constructed the world, and are now trying to figure out who the characters are."

She was absolutely right.

Usually, when I write a play, the main thing that I need in order to get going and (more importantly) finish a script is to be able to hear the character's "voices." I don't work on the characters' backgrounds; I'm not interested in what town the character was raised in, what their favorite movie was when they were eight or what their 7th grade math grades were like. But when I know a character's voice, I can figure out how the scenes are going to come out, what they'll most likely do in a certain situation and even extrapolate some of that never-used "background" based on how they talk (if it's ever needed; hey, some actors need that sort of information).

Now when I say "voices," I don't mean, "This guy sounds like Sylvester Stallone with a head cold," or, "She has a high, squeaky voice." I mean method of speaking, conversational style, vocabulary, whether they spit out snide quips or stammer awkwardly, how they respond to someone else talking to them.

Once the voices are down, everything else usually falls into place with relative ease (emphasis on the words usually and relative).

This is most definitely the case with my last show, The Adventures of Nervous Boy. Once I knew exactly how Nervous Boy would respond and react to situations and other characters, the scenes came quickly. Once I figured out that Emily wasn't exactly the manic, self-absorbed phony that Nervous Boy believed her to be, their successive scenes were pretty easy to write.

(Now, obviously this isn't always the case and I'm bending the truth just a little bit here to illustrate a point. In other words, I'm being a tad liberal with the relative use of the terms "quickly" and "easy." Despite this, I still hope you understand what I mean.)

When I write, the voices come first, the worlds in which the characters live follow.

Not so with this script.

With this script, I have my premise, source material and basic outline for a story drawn and mapped out (well, mostly mapped out). But mainly, I have created the world in which the play resides. I do have characters, and have picked which characters I want to be the main characters, but I don't know them very well. I don't know their voices. Also, that I've picked which of the characters I've created to be the main ones after the fact should say something. I have one character fleshed out with some pretty good detail (not only do I know his "voice," but oddly enough I also know where he was raised and what his 7th grade math grades were like), but he's not the main character (he's more a catalyst for events that my main characters will have to deal with throughout the play).

I've never done this before.

It will be interesting to see whether writing this play in this way ends up screwing me over or if it will clear a roadblock or two for me. It will also be interesting to see how different the end result ends up being from my previous endeavors (if, of course, I'm able to finish it). It's far too early to say right now. I'm fortunate enough (so far) to still have enough energy and enthusiasm to continue working on it.

Let's just hope I don't do something stupid like get super self-conscious about this and freeze up.

As soon as I can start to put the skeleton in place, I'll be able to offer more specifics about this project.

In the meantime, I've got to quit stalling by yammering away on this site and write another five or six pages on it today.

Ass backwards as always,

James "Semaj Siotmoc" Comtois


Anonymous Ian W. Hill said...

Keep us informed on the progress, and what new avenues this approach brings, please. Always interesting in particular to hear an account from the inside of something "different" cropping up in someone's work method.

2:23 PM  
Blogger Freeman said...

I enjoy hearing about the work on blogs. Sometimes that's the last thing on our list to be open about. Keep sharing about this.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Adam said...

cool. let me know if there are roadblocks and what the characters do and how clearly they come thorough. Best of luck

10:47 AM  
Anonymous Steph said...

That is how I used to write when I was MUCH younger - situation, place first, characters growing organically from that. Let me know how it goes and any "a-has" that happen.

12:46 PM  

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