Sunday, August 12, 2007

Writers On-the-air Final Thoughts

Reading Day was long, but a terrific success! We are so fortunate to have sucha talented group of actors willling to give their time and skills to bring the writers' words to life for the first time. After the full day of readings yesterday, the writers gathered one last time this morning for a debrief. We were all a little bleary, but once again the conversation flowed fruitfully. We talked about discoveries, surprises and reactions from the readings. For some of us, the flaws and holes in our scripts came into focus. Others reveled in finding the script sounded just as they hoped it would. We tossed around our reactions to audience feedback and our reactions to each others' scripts. Some of us will be working on revisions, others will put their pieces aside and others will tweak here and there but are basically satisfied with where things stand. I announced my plans for a monthly writers critique group born of WOW and collected some evaluations of the workshop process. Bigger space & more time to share what we write were among the requests for the future.

This blog is such a woefully inadequate encapsulation of the WOW experience. I come to it feeling lazy and spent and inadequate to the task of re-creating the workshop experience. Perhaps that's as it should be. The writing workshop experience is so much a function of the interaction among participants. I repeat again, find a community of writers with whom to share and discuss your work. It is motivating and exhilarating at its best, and it can save you from the vortex that solitude can create. It is the great paradox of writing - you must have chunks of solitary time in which to create, but you must have chunks of communal time to feed that solitude and counteract it and interact with it.

So, we close another year of Writers On-the-air. But the Writers' Wavelength blog continues sporadically all year. As should the writing itself.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Writers On-the-air Day 8

Our final check-in before Reading Day. After a day of juggling schedules and casting, I was a little foggy-headed, but the evening went smoothly. All scripts are in and finished - bravo, writers!

When we checked in tonight, several of us talked about those last-minute tweaks and changes and the temptation to keep tweaking and changing. This is the liberating part of knowing it's a first draft. It's a little easier to stop tweaking. Still,the discussion raised that question that plagues many a creative artist - "How do you know when to stop?" One participant pointed out the quote "Art is never finished, only abandoned." Luckily, with a first draft reading like we have with WOW, you can just stop changing and see how it reads as is. That may help make the decision about changes, and save you some time if the changes weren't necessary.

One of the writers found that this last push to finish the script really kicked in her creative drive to complete another piece as well. A testament, I think, to the wisdom of those who tell you to write every day. When those muscles are in use, they get a lot done.

Those folks working on series discussed the ups and downs of that experience. It's somewhat comforting, if you have to cut, to know you can always put things back in to future episodes.

We tossed around the idea of "burning questions," which we will pose to our audience/actors. What makes a good burning question? Sometimes, you want to zero in on a particular moment, but often you want the question to look for that problem spot without putting undue focus on it before the audience hears the piece. Some recommendations: Ask yourself what you think the major strength & weakness of the piece is and formulate your questions from there. Build the questions as more open-ended. For example, say you're worried that certain parts are too short and others too long. You might ask: Which parts would you like more time on? Which parts feel unnecessary? You can also ask general questions such as: What is your impression of this character? What do you see as the greatest strength of this piece? What is its greatest weakness? what questions were you left with?

Guideliens and expectations for reading day:
What it is: A cold reading. A chance to hear your words read aloud by actors, see what works and what needs changing, hear specific reactions from a variety of listeners. A celebration of what you've accomplished during the workshop process.

What it is NOT: A fully rehearsed performance, final production, promise of production or future casting, opportunity for you or others to scorn or condemn your hard work, time to critique actor performances or casting choices. It does not determine your worth as a person or an artist.

In addition to logistics, we took a moment to do a "quickwrite" (write without stopping under time pressure) about our hopes and fears for Saturday's Reading Day. We hope the balance we are seeking between humor and authenticity will succeed and we fear laughter where we don't want it and silence when we want laughter. We hope genre will work for us and fear the preconceptions that some folks have about genre lacking depth. We hope we have created an effective degree of tension in a piece, we fear actors' tendency to go for the laughs in a cold reading. Generally speaking, we hope the audience will enjoy our work and fear that they won't.

Reading Day is always an adventure. I can't wait! With 10-20 actors plus writers and invited guests, 12 scripts and 6 hours of readings, it's certainly an event.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Writers On-the-air Day 7

The closer we get to reading day, the more aware I am of how difficult it is to capture the experience of the workshop sessions through a few notes in a blog. It just speaks to the value of working with a communty of writers.

WOW Day 7 really just served as a chance to check in with one another and provide advice and support to eachother as we emerged for the final push to complete our first drafts, and in some cases wrestled with getting those drafts done. We talked about the challenge of giving ourselves permission to let a first draft be a first draft, in all its messy imperfection, especially knowing we would be sharing it with others - not just the safe community of the WOW writers but also the eyes and ears and minds of the actors joining us on reading day. We celebrated completing something, something with a beginning, middle and end, something longer and imperfect. "Celebrate your imperfection!" I say. It's incredibly liberating.

We talked about anguishing over "killing the babies" - cutting characters that no longer worked, eliminating dialogue or scenes we have come to love, and so one. Not to mention the way such big changes can affect the shape of the whole, and then you think you need to rewrite, and it can feel unending. Once again, we have to accept that a first draft is just that. The beauty of a reading with actors and other people hearing it is that, rather than being your judges, they can be your allies in the struggle to fix what's broken and solve those nagging script problems. If there's a battle your fighting with your piece and you don't feel you're solving the problem, let it be your burning question, put it to your audience or readers and enlist their aid in your struggle.

We wrestled over endings - does it work? Is it too abrupt? We worried about length - too short? Too long? What did everybody else do? We celebrated - plugging problem plot holes, finishing a full-length piece, rediscovering an old idea and finding it has new life in it. We gave and received support - both live and online - to tackle that last push.

We listened to some audio clips from previous WOW Reading Days to geta flavor. We also compared a clip from reading day with a finished production of the same piece and noted the way the energy of a live audience feeds the actors, how the actual presence of a soundbed can radically alter the tone and mood in the final production, how ambiguity in writing invites a wide range of interpretations by actors that can influence the final impact of a piece.

From the business end, I asked writers to be sure every character is accounted for in their cast list, so that every character is assigned to an actor, and to note any that could be doubled.

Tomorrow - last minute check-ins and notes before the BIG DAY of readings on Saturday.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Writers On-the-air Day 6

Day 6 was a few days ago, but it's been a busy weekend. I spent Friday and Sunday at the Willametter Writer's Conference, and Saturday devoted to a brutal 2 hour Praxis test for my ESL endorsement. My brain is a bit saturated, but here goes.

On Day 6, we took refuge in the air-conditioned WRW studio to escape the heat and keep our brains fresh for sample scenes from 5 more scripts. We talked over the role of narrator (always a hot topic at WOW - to narrate or not to narrate, that is the question). We examined ways to raise the stakes for characters in a conflict. We wrestled with means for helping the listener hook into the multiple characters of an ensmble piece. It's okay to restate information a few times in different ways, and its okay to toss the character names out there in dialogue on a regular basis to help us keep them straight. The theme of intentional ambiguity arose numerous times. This is a tactic several of the scripts are playing with - intentional ambiguity or misdirection. The point was made that, while we may not share all the information with the listener, the author themselves should be clear and decisive in their own head. You should know the answers to the questions you raise, even if you don't give those answers to your listener.

Between those conversations and some of the info I gleaned at the writers conference, I find myself pondering the question "When is it okay to break the rules?" Put another way, at what point have you mastered your craft sufficiently to dabble in ambitious efforts? One of the presenters I heard at the conference, Eric Witchey, used the analogy of juggling. You master the easier skills first - one ball, two balls, then three balls - before you go on to the headier stuff - flaming torches, say, or chainsaws. Likewise, you master traditional plot structure, and perhaps short stories, before going on to novels or to non-traditional plot. So I ask myself, do I keep plugging away at an idea that is intriguing and unusual but perhaps a little out of my league at the moment? Or do I sharpen my skills on something more in my current range? Intentional ambiguity and misdirection in audio (or, perhaps, in any writing) seem to fall into the category of more ambitious efforts. Absolutely worth attempting, but go in with your eyes open.

Anyhoo, those are my musings of the moment. Script drafts are due next week, so we're all putting noses to the grindstone at the moment. Sam is lining up actors for a full day of readings on Saturday, August 11.

More next week!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Writers On-the-air Day 5

Day 5 of the Writers On-the-air Workshop was probably the most difficult to capture in a blog. We had no audio clips. We jumped right into sharing sample scenes from our scripts, with our accompanying "burning questions." The burning questions are intended to focus listener feedback and make it more meaningful for the author. Authors read all the parts in the script themselves, which can be confusing but can also reveal when your audience might be confused as to who is speaking, whether you've captured character in the dialogue, etc. We heard scenes from 7 of the scripts tonight and what a wonderful range! Deep, intellectally meaty, mysterious and thought-provoking, chandler-esque with a humorous spin, comic inferno, satirical comedy, period gothic, tense docudrama. Burning questions included the following (feel free to use these yourself some time):

How does the scene make you feel?
How would you describe the tone and mood of the scene?
Does the scene successfully establish a sense of time and place?
What is your impression or mental picture of this character?
Is this element necessary?
Is there too much narrative?
What, if anything, is confusing?
Does the exposition work?

These questions give you a little glimpse of what our authors are working on.

On a personal note, I discovered that my piece was funny. I actually realized that while working on my scenes for this session, but was pleased to see that, in fact, laughs occurred. Comedy is a strange beast, and not one I usually tangle with. It has caught me by surprise and I'm curious to see where it will take me.

Tomorrow night we will hear sample scenes from the rest of the authors (5-7 more in all).

Popular Posts