Last night I wrote a scene for a play that I’d been thinking about in one form or another for around a year now. It was a moment that occurred to me right after having the idea for the play that it’s in, and in the initial research (i.e. walking around listening to music/staring off into space) phases of the process, it was the one that I could see most clearly, and that I returned to the most. When I sat down to start writing I figured that it wouldn’t be the first scene, but it’d be close to the beginning; maybe the start of Scene Two, Scene Three at the latest. But as I kept writing, the moment kept moving; always just a little bit later, just a little bit further ahead. “Oh, that can’t happen yet,” I’d say to myself. “This other thing needs to get established first.” Or, “It doesn’t fit here, but the next big beat that arrives will be good for it.” I constantly had this moment dangling in front of me, and like a carrot on a stick it kept hanging there, juuuust close enough to picture but not yet right for the scene.
And then, finally, last night, I cornered it. I’d written my way to a place that I knew needed this moment, deeply, desperately. There was no better moment for this moment than now. It was time. It was happening. The scene I’d been loving in my head for a year had arrived…
And I froze.
I got up from the computer. I got a drink. I went to Twitter. I finally got yelled at by Annie, because she’s on to my tricks, and only then, only then, did I sit down and write it. And it worked! It was wonderful. It was exactly where it needed to be, and it was fun. I got to forge onward, happy, knowing that I had delayed my gratification until just the right time, even though I’d been wanting to write the scene from even before I was writing the play.
Or had I?
This kind of moment occurs a lot when I’m writing, and I think it tends to be for two main reasons. The first is the obvious one, and was captured perfectly by another awesome writer, as she yelled at me over Twitter. (I got yelled at a lot last night.) It was, as she put it, performance anxiety. All that build-up, all that excitement, I’d put this moment up on a pedestal and now that I’d gotten to it I was terrified that I’d mess it up. It’s always better in our heads, after all, and so of course it was scary to finally try to translate what’s in our heads on the page.
But I think there’s another reason, too, and I think it relates to why I almost always wind up cutting my favorite lines when I revise. These are lines I love, deeply: funny jokes, touching sentiments, asides that hit just the right tone…and yet nine times out of ten, they’re the lines that I end up cutting when I’m going through and tightening the play as a whole. I think that as writers, we build up these Favorite Things as sorts of totems: little inspirational encapsulations of everything that we love about the plays that we’re writing. We cram all that information in there, and then we keep it in our minds as an impetus, or a primer, so that we can think about them and remind us why we love the scene we’re working on, or the character who’s voice we’re looking for at the moment. The scene I wrote last night had a little of everything that’s in my play in it, and by constantly keeping it in my mind I made it easier to picture what I liked about all the other scenes and moments I was writing, even when they were staunchly refusing to go anywhere.
That moment from last night was like the primary-stage of the space shuttle launch; it gave me the energy I needed for lift-off, and now that the play is off the ground there’s a very good chance that it’ll be jettisoned for weight, so that the mission can be completed. I won’t know whether that’s the case or not until I get into the second draft process, but I won’t be sad if it does, because even if it gets cut, the moment fulfilled its purpose. And it feels great to have written not just that moment, but the entire play that surrounds it, as well.
Requisite Plug: Opening weekend for The Farm has been a blast. Good friends, old friends, new friends, and an awesome show. Of course, if you’re looking to learn more about it, you can just read this preview in the Boston Globe. Choice quote:
[McGough]’s other works are humorous and often fantastical. “The Farm’’ is a departure, but not as much of one as he thought, McGough says. Working with Gammons and the cast, “We’ve been discovering that it’s a little simpler than the other stuff I’ve written, it’s a little less crazy and out-there, but it’s definitely not realism.’’
Of course, having an audience this weekend was a nice reminder that there’s funny stuff in there, too. We’re all about balance here on The Farm.
Requisite Link to Buy Tickets
They can be yours!
For today’s show-promotion supplement, you have two options. You can watch this adorable short film that won a competition where the theme was “Love Mondays”:
Or, if you’re more into the whole brevity thing, you can just check out this awesome picture of a pug going down a slide, and reacting appropriately:
Somewhere along the line, this blog became very pug-heavy. I see you no problem with that.
I keep meaning to do a post on all the wonderfulness from the past two weeks (Priscilla winning Best Comedy at the Fringe, getting to work with Mame Hunt for five days, Mark Bly not only getting but actually laughing at a horrible Mercator pun in my script), but I just can’t get off my duff. So instead, I’ll get back in the groove easily, with a perfect illustration of storytelling commitment, courtesy of Doctor Who head writer Stephen Moffat.
You have to be willing to make your audience worry. You’ve got to be willing to put your characters in actual peril, and force them make decisions that are actually difficult. And you’ve got to be willing to stand by it, because the whole point is to make people feel ways about stuff. What would be the point otherwise?
(Of course, putting characters in peril is easier when you can resurrect them the next week, but still. An object lesson.)
Nothing like a little Carl Sagan to get you in the mood to write a play about space.