Mapping out the story

Today, I wrote up one sentence synopsis for each of the scenes of my new play “The Secrets of the Magic Pool.”  This will be going into the playbill during the show, but I thought it was quite telling of how I wrote it. I like to write stories where several characters have major parts, and I’ve accomplished this in this story. You can see this by noting the different characters which are used in each synopsis. The overall story is about Eva, but Eva only shows up in several of the synopsis. The same could be said for the witch or the beggar. It’s fun using other characters to bring the story around and to shift the focus in a meaningful way. Here’s the scene by scene synopsis. This is going to be a great show. Can’t wait!

Act I

Scene 1: Cane is banished and meets the witch

Scene 2: The princess waits for him. The cobbler complains.

Scene 3: Cane meets the beggar and Eva

Scene 4: Prince Casimir arrives at the castle

Scene 5: The cobbler’s girls drive him crazy.

Scene 6: Baker and Cobbler have a dispute.

Scene 7: The prince returns. Cane goes insane.

Scene 8: Eva & Cane meet a second time.

Scene 9: The witch changes tactics.

Scene 10: The journey is not what it seems.

15  MINUTE INTERMISSION

Act II

Scene 1: The true story of Eva

Scene 2: Atty is in trouble.

Scene 3: Atty and the beggar.

Scene 4: Majji and Casimir disagree.

Scene 5: Cane comes to claim the water.

Scene 6: A surprise visitor at the cobbler’s house.

Scene 7: Majji and Casimir part ways.

Scene 8: Majji finds the past.

Scene 9: The witch’s visit.

Scene 10: The final meeting.

JStef-Apr2016-2777

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An 18,000 Word Play Finished

I’ve been working hard over the past week trying to put the finishing touches on my latest full-length play – a morality tale called “The Secrets of the Magic Pool.”  It’s kind of an allegorical fairy-tale setting, but it’s not a fairy tale. Nor is it a fable. It is an allegory. Perhaps it’s best described as an allegorical tale – or a story of good and evil – or I have no idea how to classify it.

I’m planning on “workshopping” Act I of it next week with some actors in order to get some feedback before I put the finishing-finishing touches on it. I do plan on publishing it in the next month or so.

I must say that I have some mixed feelings about it. At times I feel like I’m being too heavy-handed with the overall themes of the play. There are plenty of light, whimsical scenes, but it does get kind of ominous and foreboding at times. I hope I haven’t tilted my hand too much on it.

At 18,000 words, I expect it to run around an hour forty-five minutes or so, certainly less than two hours. I’ve divided it into two acts, simply because I can never really see the point of making a play more than two acts. Two acts is simple – have the intermission in the middle. Of course, it needs to build to a satisfactory height come intermission, and I’ll let my actors tell me if I’ve accomplished that or not.

The play was actually finished last week until I got a new idea of how to make it better and I had to completely re-create the ending. Time spent is the price writers pay in order to improve a work, and it is much improved. The new ending gave me many more pieces which I could add to the earlier parts of the story too.

It’s one of these overlapping storylines which make it very difficult to write an accurate blurb or short synopsis.

  • A foreign prince has to take a treasury run to the north before the king will let him marry his daughter.
  • A widower cobbler frets about marrying off his girls, while discouraging his youngest from liking the annoying bread boy.
  • A blind beggar sits on the street giving sage advice and strange narration.
  • A mysterious woman hides herself in the woods, protecting a magical pool of water.
  • A witch enlists the king’s outlaw brother to help her with her diabolical plot.

There’s probably other storylines as well. Lots going on, but it all comes together in the end.

It has a cast of 13 characters. Should be a lot of fun to produce. I plan on starting production in January for a May performance.

Now, back to novel writing.

Draft Done: Now Can I Hold It Together?

I’ve just finished the first draft of the first, full-length play I’ve written without collaboration in about 4-5 years. The title of the play is “The Secrets of the Magic Pool.” It’s an allegorical tale of good and evil – somewhat inspired by Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.” Well, for the sake of clarity, I was watching “Into the Woods” in the cinema when the idea for a play came upon me. The story is not in anyway related to “Into the Woods,” but stylistically and setting, the story would feel somewhat at home in the Sondheim landscape – minus the music – mine is a stage play. (Though I think it would be fun to turn it into a musical.)

Anyways, the first draft is finished. My overall feeling toward this play is at the moment somewhat underwhelming. It has potential, but has not remotely reached it yet. Honestly, the ending is rushed and uneven at this point. I pushed myself hard yesterday just to get a completed draft, knowing that it would have large gaping holes in it. But for me, getting the story completely fleshed out is important. It gives me the overall structure which will enable me to work on the nuts and bolts.

Here’s how I plan to attack it:

First, do a complete read-through from A-Z and fix glaring mistakes in plot and character.

Second, once that is complete, I going to do a second read-through, looking specifically at language, vocabulary, and word-flow.

Third, I will read-through again, re-evaluating plot and character issues, and doing any major re-writes which need to happen. I also will make sure all scenes are necessary and that the pace of the play meets the demands of the purpose of the play. Dullness not allowed.

Once I reach this point, I will start to polish, further smoothing the dialogue until it really flows. I’ll read it out loud to make sure it sounds good, and that I can imagine the movement on the stage. Will it be interesting and engaging?

Finally, I’ll get some feedback from people I trust to give me unbiased advice about the manuscript.

Then, final edit, formatting, and (if I’m happy with it) publication.

I want this all complete by December so I can order copies for auditions and production starting in January 2016.

Almost there!

The Difference between a Skit and a Play

One might think that the main difference between a skit and a play is its length – skits being short and plays being long. But I contend that is not the distinction at all. I write short plays all the time, and they can be quite short, even just a few minutes in length. I believe that length is not a good indicator of their difference.

What about subject matter? Are skits silly and funny, while plays are more serious? Perhaps in one sense, which I’ll mention in a minute, yes, but plays can also be silly and funny. And short, as we’ve already established.

In my view, the difference is the context and preparation which separate skits from plays. Let me explain.

Skits are often meant to augment a very specific event or situation. Perhaps a church service in order to illustrate a point. An awards ceremony to roast an honoree. A school assembly to get everyone thinking about a certain topic. Skits are rarely written without a specific purpose in mind. At our school, the honor society prepare skits each year to help introduce the new inductees. They also use them in chapels, at banquets, or for classroom activities. In this way, skits do not translate well into other settings, because they are specific to a certain event. Plays, on the other hand, must stand on their own. Anyone who picks up a play script should be able to understand it and its themes, regardless of where it is performed. Skits typically are not like that.

And that leads us to our second point, preparation. While people in skits do prepare for their roles, the preparation is much less intense than that of a play – even a short play. Skits do not care with character development or even a cohesive plot, they are meant to entertain or make a point. A play, even an extremely short play, must have clear character development, even if its only one character. And while skits may have scripts, often time those scripts are just guidelines. Plays have precise language. The dialogue cannot be ad libbed or changed unless that specifically is the playwrights intention. Even short plays must be memorized completely, and the action, set, tone of the play may be well prescribed by the playwright.

Can all of these items really be addressed in a short play of only 5 minutes? Absolutely!

The next time you see a short performance, ask yourself, did I just witness a mini-play or a skit?  I think you’ll be able to tell the difference.

2014: Mapping Out My Year in Writing

Yesterday I looked back on 2013 and the myriad of writing projects I involved myself in. Today, I’ll look ahead a bit and see what’s on the horizon. This is in no particular order.

  • Finish writing novel #4 – currently about 10,000 words in.
  • Publish novel #3, The Reach of the Banyan Tree – Tentative release date of late summer.
  • I’ll be directing and producing my newly penned, full-length original musical, Boardwalk Melody, in May.
  • I’ll be writing a new collection of short plays for my group The RLT Players. I already have a possible theme in mind. This will include two musical numbers as well.
  • I want to start writing novel #5 once 4 is written. I’ve actually already wrote the first chapter. I just need time to get back to it, but this will have to wait until the later half of the year.
  • As I do each year, I’m planning on writing a full-length play with my students from Sept-Dec.
  • I’ll be writing a set of short skits based on the Sistine Chapel. This is a joint project with my school’s art department.

I guess this seems like enough. I wonder what else will pop up? I better get busy writing.