So, a whole lot has happened since I’ve last posted. A reading of In The Event Of Capture directed by Kimberly Senior at Chicago Dramatists, two workshops of The Solid Sand Below (one at Atlantic’s Latino MixFest, the other at the O’Neill’s National Playwrights Conference) and then about three more weeks of reading, writing, and reflection at the National Playwrights Conference. As we had been warned, internet connectivity at the O’Neill isn’t great, so I’ve been trying to use my time here to do a lot of writing, reading, and thinking about my process, all of which has been incredibly rewarding and productive.
Just yesterday I finished the first draft of a play inspired in part by the life of man depicted above. The play is entitled Let Me Count The Ways: A Sexpionage Play On The Birth Of Modern Pornography and I’ve added a synopsis to the Projects In Development section of this website. Having completed this draft, I can see all the evaluation of my process in the past few months paying off in very concrete ways. Last night, some of the other playwrights and I read the draft aloud in the O’Neill Library, and I’m not sure I’ve ever written a first draft of a play that so clearly and dramatically articulated what I was hoping the play would. This draft presents a clearer and more nuanced portrait of its characters than I think any first draft of mine has. This is not to say that, in its final state, this play will necessarily be better than some of my other work, but rather that I’m finding this new and refined process to be more rewarding in that it allows me to more quickly and efficiently chart each character’s emotional journey through the play. The end result I’m hoping for is that the early drafts of my plays feel closer to the final product in that they are less writerly. In my previous first drafts you could feel me as a writer forcing the characters’ hands in order to get them to some pre-determined plot point. They were making decisions I as a writer wanted them to make, but that they as characters were not yet emotionally ready for. But now that I’m doing more thorough character explorations prior to writing (aided by my studying of the Enneagram and by some of the strategies David Corbett recommends in his wonderful book The Art Of Character) I find myself more effectively and sensitively tracking each character’s emotional journey moment-to-moment.
A more succinct way of articulating the evolution of my process is that previously I would have a story and write a first draft closely hewing to that story in order to figure out who the people are who live in that story. Now, I still start with a story, but before I ever write a draft I try to figure out who these people are with much greater specificity. The end result is that I spend a lot less time wandering the woods trying to discover who exactly the characters are. My revision work is more much about precisely articulating the very clear image I already have of the characters. My re-writing also is then more concerned with shaping the overall story arc and emotional journeys in such a way that the play has both the emotional and intellectual impact I desire. To be sure, there are still character questions, story questions, and theatrical questions I have not resolved prior to beginning a draft. I want to make sure there is some mystery to what I’m writing as I’m putting pen to paper or else there is no discovery (and therefore no joy) in the act of writing itself. But whereas in the past I began a project from my strength (story) and worked towards my personal challenges (character), I’m now starting with the most challenging part of the process buoyed by the confidence that my more natural abilities as a storyteller will come through for me at the back end of my process.