When I first ventured to write a musical at the age of 13, I impulsively began writing character sketches of the family I wanted to write about. I had five pages for each member of the family and wrote as many things as I could about them. I also had inherently started structuring the opening number into beginning, middle, end and planned out two scenes out from where I had concretely written. Now, at the age of 24, after casting off my obsession with being a perfect academic student and lover of rules, I found that I have probably overcorrected myself. I realize I have been approaching the art of playwriting as some mysterious, magical thing…like any person that makes a world through dialogue and stage direction is some magical creature with secret magical powers that I may or may not have. I realized this when I started moving through The Art and Craft of Playwriting , a book I was assigned to read for my Playwriting class. Playwriting is a craft! It is a form of writing just like essays, poetry, journaling, and prose!
Though I was at first resistant to Hatcher speaking about playwriting as such a structural form of writing, I decided to relax through my knee jolt reaction against rules within artistic writing, and took his many structural instructions to make a “good” play, as opportunities to explore ways in which I can write a play. I found the most useful tools Hatcher offered were the idea of creating character biographies before starting to write the play, planning out the actions of the play before writing the actual thing, and using the 3 movements as a guiding post to the actions of the play. I had forgotten until this point that I HAD indeed begun to write that musical at the age of 13 with some of these structural impulses! Reading about these structures and what they do within the process of writing a play grounded and focused my confidence in my ability to write a play. I love human beings and I love observing them, thus writing character biographies is an exciting idea that enables me to get very specific. It will also fuel ideas for things that may happen between these characters and what their relationships could be. I am reminded of Chekov’s plays that are composed of beautiful and intricate character sketches with deeply specific relationships. I want to create something like that!
The concept of the play outline and using the 3 movement structure as a guide to do so makes me happy and relaxed because I feel as if I’ve freed myself of this responsibly to create a piece of work as if I were scribing from a mental film playing in my head. I realize that is how most of my writing has manifested on the page lately, and that with that has come a neurosis that I am not okay with. I think the mental film can be valuable at times, but when writing a complete work, I think this outline and movement idea is much more suitable. In life I have gotten pretty good at balancing between the moment at hand and the big life picture. I think perhaps the mental film is like the moment at hand, while the outline is the big life picture. I can do it in life, now I can do it in my writing. I like that I can create a map for myself and change it as I begin to develop the map into fully fleshed out world. I also really resonated with the manner in which Jose Rivera spoke about collecting images in his mind and letting them simmer until the play must be written. I constantly have a myriad of images in my mind, and I am excited to combine images that may seem unrelated and see how they can come into conversation to create a story. I am also interested in challenging myself to sit with one or two images for a large amount of time.
Hatcher described the building of actions within a play in a way that finally made the lightbulb go off in my head. I had read a similar message about actions building upon themselves in Backwards and Forwards, but when Hatcher re-introduced Freytag’s Pyramid, it all just became so obvious. I think I needed to be pulled down to the basics of story-telling in order to really digest all the more complex ideas that have been presented to me over the past couple of years. The actions characters take, whether in relation to each other or a thing, build upon each other to create the story. Of course! Similarly, when Hatcher spoke about dialogue, I was excited about how knowing simple things like where the the character was born, grew up, and how old they are, specifically affect how they speak. I also realized how helpful it is to say dialogue out loud as you write it to makes sure it sounds like human speech. Melissa Flowers and I did this when we were writing our Spanish scripts for The Identity Project. Why can’t I do that in English too?
Is playwriting magical? Well, after reading this book, I would say that plays are magical, and that playwriting is a creative and structural adventure. Reading this book made me see that perhaps I did not really believe I could write a complete play, but now I see I can. My perspective has now changed as I have knocked the process off the mysterious starry-skied pedestal.