Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Choice You Make

In dramatic writing, you want to establish the basic need or object of desire in your main character and then set up obstacles for achieving it – the more obstacles the better! The formula they teach you in film school is the same: boy meets girl, boy gets girl (Act One), boy loses girl (Act Two), boy gets girl back (Act Three).  The key is to make things worse as the story progresses – not out of mean spiritedness but because how your character deals with problems reveals her character. 

You know.  When a person’s back is up against the wall that's when you find out who they really are.   

What’s the worst that could happen?  That’s the crisis in your play.  The forces of opposition can no longer avoid collision and the worst thing your main character could have imagined comes true – so what does she do? That’s the rest of your play!

My playwriting teacher said it was Oedipus’ character that made him gouge out his eyes when he realized that he had murdered his father and slept with his mother.  Other characters might have just skipped town.

I was thinking about this when I found myself in my own crisis.  I’d been working full guns for six months on the book, writing before work and for several hours each day on the weekends and trying to paint at nights, when it got busy again at work and I started to become exhausted and depressed.  The company was moving offices too, so I had to give up taking the bus, which is when I do all my reading, and swimming on my lunchbreaks, which is the thing I do to keep my energy and spirits up. 

I was getting pressed on all sides, and started to feel my dream slipping away... 

At first, I felt shame for all my failures.  Then panic as I went round and around my schedule and found no breaks.  Then I got sick.  Then, I blamed Jack for not rescuing me.  Then I remembered a strategy that our teacher had taught us in playwriting class.

You set a timer and for 5 minutes you write what happens from the crisis point to the end of your play.  Write whatever comes to mind in as much detail as you can.  Then you go back to the crisis point and somebody (say your main character) makes a different choice.  For 5 minutes write what happens from that choice to the end of your play.  Do that 5 times, so you have 5 different endings.  Then choose one – and that’s how your play ends!

Do that for your life and then, given all the different scenarios, ask yourself what is the choice you will make?

p.s. I chose 6:00am M-F at the Culver Plunge! 


Cynthia Wylie said...

Love This. I am posting it on my facebook. Lot's of great information too about writing. :)

Linda said...

beautiful resolution to a problem. very satisfying... redemptive.

like all good writing and life!

The Red Coat Writer said...

I had to change the title! I was going to leave the old one (The Worst That Could Happen) and write a post about how my blog was teaching me to live with loss (the loss of not being able to go back and change something) and then I said fuck it! I can do what I want! It's much better with the new title, don't you think??? More positive! p.s. Cindy, thank you sooo much for your subtle push last time I saw you about how I needed to keep posting -- no matter what -- because it was an important part of my marketing strategy for the book. It was constructive criticsm, one of the things that helped me move through my problems :)

Sarah said...

This is such a strong piece Diana. I liked the old title better. This is what came up for me....

I used to eat two eggs over easy every day for lunch no matter what. This went on for a year or so. Compulsion or ritual, it's hard to say. Knowing what I was going to have for lunch made all the other choices I had to make throughout the day easier. I knew the eggs would sustain me. One Sunday morning at Grand Street Farmer's Market I discovered a roasted red pepper, jalapeno hummus. It tasted sensational. That same day at lunch, I made a radical departure in my nutritional plan. Instead of two eggs, I prepared a salad of mixed greens, fresh veggies and a heaping spoonful of that fiery red hummus. The rest of the day went very smoothly and the warmth in my gut surprised me.

Life is a delicate balance of weights/stresses and load bearing "walls". Even the smallest shifts in our individual structures can bring up big questions like "Will I survive?". As intelligent beings, it's fair and common to imagine "the worst that could happen" when faced with change. This is the title that rings true for me.

Thank you Diana!