Friday, September 7, 2007

Splitting the Atom

In considering my suggested division for Rules of the World, Erik points out that the convention of presentation and the rule itself are related.

I agree. Perhaps the distinction is more important when creating a play as opposed to experiencing the play.

Erik's example was that in a particular play the Dead don't use contractions. I find it hard to believe that our imaginary writer was working away at her script, and for some reason unknown to her she had hese characters who just refused to use contractions. She keeps writing and somewhere around scene five she suddenly realizes - Oh! They're dead.

Despite that glib inversion, I hope you see my point that Erik is describing the process of audience interpretation as opposed to playwright creation.

It strikes me that the division I am suggesting between ROTW and conventions assumes a certain process as a writer.

I have assumed that my fellow playwrights first dream up a reality, and then consider how to present that reality to an audience.

It occurs to me that there are likely writers who imagine a theatrical reality: that is, they imagine only the stage event, and not some separate truth that must be translated.

To writers in the second category, my atom-splitting on ROTW is meaningless.

So let's bump this conversation back a step: what is your process? As a playwright, do you create a theatrical reality, or do you first create an internal reality which then must be translated for presentation?


Amy said...

It depends on what comes first, the story or the image. If it's the story first, then I "create an internal reality which then must be translated for presentation" - if the images come first (sometimes I "see" the work in my head before writing it) then I "create a theatrical reality". I've never really given it this much thought to be honest!

Aaron Carter said...

I hadn't thought much about it before either. But as I try to talk with more and more people about writing, I find it useful to probe these basic questions of approach. Miscommunication happens when people are using the same terminology for different things.

I also think that this kind of discussion is great for thinking about how to teach playwriting.

ian mairs said...

I hadn't really thought about this kind of chicken or egg question until I went to grad school.
I know when I work with younger playwrights and they come in and say "I have this amazing concept for a play.." I let them tell me as much as they can. And it is amazing. It will be more amazing if they can pull off a second act and still remain loyal to their world order.
I used to say "Okay, I see all that stuff but what is this really about?" But that would alienate them. So I just tell them to start writing with that in mind and eventually if they keep going...the play shows up. Or not the whole play but the spirit of the play. And then they have to decide if their concept is helping or impeding what they are getting at.
My friend Jackie says "I wouldn't write the play if I knew how it was going to end." And I am drawn to the mystery of it.
And I have a hard time killing some of my darlings, I think "this is just so clever or hip or grin producing." I think a writer's group has given me a painful nudge a time or two.
I like what Arundhati Roi (The God of Small Things) said once in an interview "I write about my obsessions." And I am never very reasonable with my obsessions. If I was reasonable, I guess they wouldn't be obsessions. Does that make sense?

David said...

Not sure if this getting exactly at what you're asking, but I've often found that if I start writing with a "concept" in mind (whether a rule of behavior or presentation,it almost always stalls out or is changed. Not from laziness or an inability to stick to my guns, but because it usually opens up new possibilities.

On the other hand, I will often start by working on or exploring a concept because -- key word here -- it gets me STARTED. Writing, that is.