Forget All Those Author Duties. I Just Want to Create

I am still in need of a publicist, secretary, and experienced book promoter who wants nothing in return from life except to see my books succeed.

I’ve actually gotten very few job applications to fill this vacancy.

The only one I received was from a less-than-enthusiastic candidate who is more interested in turning a clever phrase and creating new characters than putting in the long hours and dirty work necessary for an indie author to succeed. Oh, and curiously enough, this sole applicant has the same exact name as me.

Strange, isn’t it?

So yes, here I was on a free Saturday. I have so many author duties to accomplish. There is so many promotional ideas to be explored. I have giveaways to set up. Networks to be connected. Book reviewers to be contacted, but no, what did I do? I defied every single one of those “duties” and I did what a writer is supposed to do. I wrote a new play.

That’s right. I forsook promotion in order to promote my creativity because that’s what I love to do. So I spent the afternoon writing a gritty drama entitled “Alone in a Bar.” It’s a power-keg of a drama ready to explode. It’s about 10 minutes long, so I’ll probably enter it in some competitions at some point to see what I got.

So please forgive me for not getting anything done except for creativity. Isn’t that enough? Who needs to sell books anyways? I just want to write. I’ll get back to promoting another day. Creativity is always my priority over the other mundane tasks of being an author. Yes, I’ll get back to them another day, just not now. Not today when there’s a distraught man with a gun sitting at a bar with a bottle of whisky in front of him. I needed to see what he was going to do.

And so I did.

A Writer Pushing Himself into Unfamiliar Territory

Here I am at my normal writing location, but today, as the rain crashed the writing party, I find myself sitting out the outdoor restaurant, towel around my shoulders, feet away from the pool, with classic pop music from the 70s and 80s playing in the background.

Actually, not a bad place to write.

What am I working on this afternoon? A full-length play. The working title is “The Magic Pool” – I’m not sure  if that is going to stick or not. The play is clearly within the fable, classic storytelling genre. Quite a change from what I normally write. It’s a fable, allegory, and fairy tale all rolled into one – though there are no fairies, for clarity sake. It’s a story idea that came to me a while back when I was watching Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” at the cinema. Why I thought of it, I don’t know. But I needed an idea for a play to produce in the the spring of 2016, and this is what has been impressed upon my heart. The writing goal is simple: create a play with princesses, witches, villains, heroes, etc… without it being hackneyed and stale. Tall order, I know. But it’s a challenge I’m enjoying at the moment.

I’m not going to get into the plot-line at this point because I’m still working through A LOT of issues, but that is precisely the point of this post. I’ve realized that it’s a great writing exercise for me to write a full-length drama from time to time. I write many short plays, as you might have noticed. When I’m not novel writing, I’m almost always writing a short play of some sort which I use for festival entries, forensics competitions or with my drama group the RLT Players. But I’m realizing that full-length drama is a completely different beast. I haven’t written by myself a full-length drama since “Romans on the Couch” during Christmas 2010. It’s about time.

I’ve said before that I think writers of novels can benefit from writing drama from time to time because of the unique way that dialogue is needed to build character development. This is doubly true when writing full-length dramas. When I write my 10-minute plays, the objective is very focused. The story-line is streamlined and it’s rather easy to write a tight script when dealing with only a few characters.

But as I’m re-learning, writing a full-length drama requires compromise and patience. It’s a complex maze, not completely unlike putting a novel together – minus the description. It forces me to stay disciplined in my thoughts, and I have to remember many different characters and objectives and settings and flawlessly weave them all together. Not easy, that’s why it’s good for me. Anytime a writer pushes his/herself in unfamiliar ways is a positive endeavor.

I’ll let you know how it turns out. I hope to publish it by December.

An Approach to Drama Writing Part II: It all starts in your mind.

Part II on my short workshop on writing drama (applicable to other genres as well. Part I was on Being Fearless. You can read it HERE!

Writing is accomplished in your mind. It’s edited on paper. (or electronic paper)

One of the great myths of writing is that it is accomplished when you actually start putting ink to paper. I have found that to be grossly untrue. Writing is a mind game, an exercise in thinking, an exercise in idea creation, an exercise in fleshing out ideas and thinking about characters and scenes long before you ever put anything down on paper.

Start  with a word or phrase

The most important part of writing is generating thoughts which connect and help expand an idea. One of the most effective ways I have found to generate ideas is by starting with a word or phrase. Here are some phrases that I came across that I liked which eventually turned into short dramatic pieces:

  • If Love is a Crime
  • More Heart, Less Attack (stolen from a song title)
  • Captured in Time and Space (stolen from an album title)
  • There is no leaving

These are phrases, some random some sourced from other places, which stuck with me for one reason or another and I started ruminating on them. I started asking myself in what type of situation might showing love be a crime. In my history class at the time, we were talking about slavery and that quickly gave me my answer: giving aid to a runaway slave. So I took that phrase and developed it into a short play and then eventually a short story.

I basically did the same thing with the other phrases above as well. I thought and thought until I fit the phrase into an appropriate situation. Each one turned out to be a good piece of drama.

Start with an image or scene in your mind.

Another great place to start your drama writing is just taking a simple image in your mind and starting to think through what type of situation could it create. When I was growing up, there was a lonely tree on top of a high hill which always visually stuck with me for some reason. As I was writing my second novel a couple years ago, I encouraged myself to take that image and try to use it. Who would climb a hill and sit under a lonely crab apple tree? Could they be trying to escape something? Could they be climbing the hill in order to look out over the valley trying to see something? I let my imagination take me away and eventually used it as an integral part of my novel. All it took was thinking time.

I also had an image of a man standing in a square with an umbrella in front of the gate of the presidential palace of some country. I kept asking myself why a man would do this? What might be the situation? A protest? Waiting for someone? I used this image to create a short play about a man waiting for a revolution. More recently I took that short play and wrote it into a novel – my fourth coming up later this summer.

What’s the point?

What I’m trying to get across when writing drama (or anything for that matter), is that your initial idea does not have to be elaborate. It might not even be an idea a first, just a phrase or an image rattling away in your mind. All you need to do is let that phrase ruminate and give your mind time to generate some possible ideas which you can explore on paper. Keep it simple. Think who might be in that setting and why? What might this word or phrase mean? Is there a particular place associated with it?

Now just keep it going. You’ll be surprised at how your ideas will blossom.

Next up in part three of writing drama: Take that scene and create your characters (or vice versa)

Approaches to (Drama) Writing Part I: Be Fearless

A colleague asked me to speak to an English class about drama writing. This was a good opportunity for me to spend a little time to think through the processes I use when writing drama (or creative writing in general.) Mostly, my procedures are nothing learned or formal, but merely intuitive responses based on trial and error. I’d like to take a few posts and talk about my procedures in hopes that it might encourage others in their pursuit of writing drama. Part 1 is not exclusive to drama writing. It’s an essential part of any type of creative writing.

Drama Writing – Part 1: Be Fearless!

When you start writing drama (or any creative writing), you will find yourself saying things like this:

“I don’t know what to write about.”

“I have no good ideas.”

“Look at what I’ve written. It stinks.”

If you find yourself saying any of these or similar platitudes then you are well on your way to being a writer. Here’s one to crochet on a pillow and put in your writing room: Doubt is the bedfellow of a writer.

Undoubtedly.

There are many reasons for this. One of the most obvious reasons comes from comparing one’s work with that of other writers. We’ve all read something which we really admire and think, “Wow, I could never write like this. I could never be a better writer than this person so why even try.” You may feel like sulking in despair and throwing your pen into the trash. But while the previous sentence may be true, the inverse is as well, that author will never write like you. There’s only one you. Capitalize on it!

Secondly, vulnerability is embedded into the fabric of writing. If you ever want to say something memorable, if you ever want to communicate effectively and correctly about the human condition, if you ever wan to connect with an audience, you have to be vulnerable in your writing. You have to go places in your writing where you typically don’t want to go. You have to write things which will make your friends raise their eyebrows and look at you funny. They will wonder if you are really losing it, or if you have finally fallen off the deep end. All those doubts they had about you will be confirmed. Are you sure you are ready for this?

Third, an issue interconnected with vulnerability is the judgment which inevitably will come along with it. Fairly or not, writers who let others read their works will be judged. Some people will understand what you are saying. Others won’t, and that judgment can hurt. I remember after I published my first novel, I had some friends who treaded lightly around a few topics which I broached in the book. Some even asked me, “Whoa, what’s going on in that mind of yours?”

But what I have learned more than anything else about writing is that writers don’t let unfavorable comparisons, painful vulnerabilities, or ruthless judgments stop them from writing.

Writers must be fearless! This is the foundational stone upon which your writing must be built, and I think it’s also the first step that must be understood when attempting to write serious drama (or any other genre of creative writing.)

Understand at the beginning that failure and doubt will follow you everywhere, but you must not give in to their begging and pleading.

Now that we all understand what to expect, we’re ready to move on to step 2 of drama writing.

Next Up in Our Drama Writing Series – Part 2: Writing Starts in Your Mind

Insight into Writing my New Show (3)

Only a couple more days until opening night of the new show I’ve written. I had previously highlighted the first 6 dramatic sketches and here are the other four.
sketch fact sheets a woman at war“A Woman at War” is a WWII historical mini-musical which focuses on a woman, Sarah, saying goodbye to her new husband on the home front, and doing what she can to support the war effort while missing her love. I wrote the lyrics and book and created the melodies to go with it. I then gave the piece to my school’s music teacher, Laura Danneker, who took the melodies and composed the rest of the music along with the performance track. I really love this piece. It’s separated in three acts: The Wedding (and goodbye), The War (on the home front plus Johnny on the battlefield where he gets injured), The Homecoming (when Sarah realizes that Johnny comes home a different man). I won’t give away the ending, but it is emotionally powerful. This was originally performed in the Short & Sweet Musical Festival KL in September this year. I’m happy to be producing it for our show. It’s our opening piece, which gut-punches the audience right off the bat. Good stuff.

sketch fact sheets Pinch of Fate

This is a fun piece which won Best Script in the Short & Sweet Theatre Penang 2014 and will be performed as part of Short & Sweet Theatre Sydney in 2015. I’m happy to be producing it for our show as well. The narrator (call her the Grim Reaper if you like) comes to get Rebecca who is scheduled to be flattened by a car today. But Mitch, who is running late, changes his routine and ends up saving her, thus creating a chain reaction of coincidences which bring Mitch and Rebecca into an improbable love relationship. The narrator keeps changing the storyline in order to get back at them, but, let’s face it, the Grim Reaper is just having an off-day. Who can change fate and destiny?

gods one questionA person ends up at the Pearly Gates of Heaven and meets God. The person thinks she knows what God wants to ask her: “Why should I let you into heaven?” And so the person goes through the four possible answers for this question only to find out that all of the answers are wrong. As the person panics, trying to figure out what to do, she realizes that that wasn’t God’s question after all. I wrote this as a way to pose questions, stir theological debate, and show a simple expression of what might it be like to stand at Heaven’s Gates. It’s a fun and poignant piece. Quite emotional at the end. I like it.

sketch fact sheets what was it like

The last piece of the evening, “What was it like”, is not a play, but a seven stanza nostalgic look at the past, recalled through various lines of prose and simple acting. My choreographer also added a beautiful dance which compliments the piece and Hui Min Tang wrote a beautifully rich piano piece which perfectly sets the mood. The actors ask questions like, “What was it like to hear that the president was shot?” “What was it like to type your college papers on a typewriter?” “What was it like to sit shirtless on the back of a gray-haired water buffalo?” “What was it like …” It ends with them stating, “If you haven’t asked these questions of your parents, grandparents, or other elderly people in your life, do it today before it’s too late. Because we are who we were.”

Lights down.

Then end.