Friday, February 10, 2006

In Twenty Years Time Students May Have To Study This. Or Maybe Not.

In Twenty Years Time Students May Have To Study This. Or Maybe Not.

I am always slightly wary of blogging about my writing just because I'm not sure how much of an interesting topic it makes. I know that if I write about a gig I'll get a mini surge of hits and I can understand why - wanting to find out how I've embarrassed myself this time is a valid form of entertainment. Equally if I blog about popular culture (that would be the John Barrowman, Big Brother, Smash Hits et al entries) I know I'm going to get comments popping into my inbox. There are those of you reading this who come here on a pretty regular basis and read a lot - if not all - of what I write. Then there are my casuals who pop in and out. And because - as was pointed out to me the other day - I "write to be read" then there is the looming fact that I don't want to bore you. Regulars, sometimers, googlers and all. Every so often I might want to whitter on about Byron to you - which some might argue amounts to the same thing as intense boredom - but I always want to entertain, or make you smile, or ever so occassionally make you think. If I could sing I recokon I'd make a good popstar in this respect - I've an inherent desire to please an audience. That whole thing of art for arts sake, of writing in secret and then having the manuscripts burnt when you die - one of the biggest pieces of crap I have ever heard. Me? I want the glory. I want the reviews and the applause. I want to see my stats growing and comments in my inbox. And beyond DA - of all the mediums that I could write for - I've chosen the one where you can actually see people's reactions to your work. As a playwright you can sit at the back of the theatre and watch - not your play - but the audience. It's an egotist's dream (or nightmare depending on the amount of non-returners post interval). Like a certain Sir Robert of Williams, I want to entertain you.

So I do worry that when I write about my writing (meta-writing if you will) I'm kind of excluding you from the party. Because I'm writing about something that i)has slightly pretentious overtones and ii) not many of you will come in contact with. In ten years time this might not be the case (for the second part at least, meta-writing or auto-lit-crit* will always be slightly pretentious in anyone other than a Romantic or a Modernist) but for now it remains a solid, indisputable fact. Only a small percentage of you have read Four Chords, even fewer have read or seen SSoB. Conversely, however, I keep finding myself wanting to blog about them, wanting to write about Four Chord's development and the ideas running through my head. Maybe it's because my head is starting on the process of New Year Resolution Number 7 ("Be able to say 'I'm a writer' even when sober"). Maybe it's because as I write ideas and problems down I manage to process them through and see where they're going. And Ginny Woolf did it to bits in her diary. So, whatever the reason, I think you'd better hold on tight.

Given the resources of a stage production you simply have to make every character count. They have to be on stage for a reason, not just for your whim that you'd like a non-speaking barman, postman or goat herd (obviously these rules don't apply to Will Shakespeare because who would be the person who sat him down and gave him the rule book?**). As well as the obvious financial implications (actors may be cheap but they're not that cheap) there's also a moral one. No actor wants a 'knitting part'***. In the midst of SSoB's run I found myself apologising profusely to the actress playing Julia. For while Julia isn't exactly a knitting part - she is integral to the themes and ideas of the play and in reading very few people realised how little stage time she gets - it remains that her two moments in the play come: 1. when I needed to get Will offstage and 2. when I needed Harry and Kate to have a 'jury out' moment in their conversation. In short her stage presence is purely as a theatrical puppet. And I still feel bad about that.

So every character has to have a story and a reason - a proper one, not just structural - for being in the play. And then there's that horrible phrase 'character arc'. Which is basically the progress a character makes over the course of the play. It might be that they start off liking deck shoes and then - after much battling and soul searching and pressure from society - they end up realising that deck shoes are the product of the devil and hence start up a national campaign against them. Inherent within the 'character arc' has to be the possibility of change. Views, opinions, character have to be tested and, be it for the worse or the better, a change has to be possible. It's why a storyline pitting me against the judges of 2003's tortous-reality-television-show wouldn't work, because however witty and honest the script was, and however appealing the blow torch rampage at the end of it would be, it would fall down because the ending would always be predestined. I would continue to dislike them from act one, scene one to the final line and there would be no chance of forgiveness. Hence the script would be lifeless and - however cathartic - ultimately pointless.

If I've one overiding aim in the second draft of Four Chords then it is to give all of the characters a proper story, with its equivalent resolution. On the surface of the read through Paul, the band's tour manager, didn't stand out as a problem. He had a distinctive voice, a purpose for being in the play and he, well, worked. What emerged to me though was that he didn't have a story. He was an accessory to someone else's story but he himself had nothing at stake. Nothing to gain or lose from events in the play. And whilst he certainly isn't the play's 'knitting part' he doesn't matter enough within it for him to ultimately keep my interest. Which is a shame when he provides a voice which is noticeably different to any of the other characters. So Paul needed a story.

As I pondered this problem it occured to me that his status on the margins of the play might be the key to his character. Because Four Chords is a play of aspirations equally as much as SSoB is a play of thwarted aspirations. What does it mean, therefore, for someone to chose to live on the periphery of such a world? Why would someone chose such a lifestyle? Why did Paul chose it? As anyone who has read Gatsby will know, it's as bold a statement to chose to be the watcher in the shadows as it is to chose to be the person who is watched****. Because the world of Four Chords, the environment which potentially causes Ben to lose everything which he holds dear, has to cost Paul something too. His problem may be the opposite to Ben's, but it still should make its mark. He too should have to question himself.

In writing Paul's story into the narrative it had something of a knock on effect for Ben. The more time I spend with Ben the more I come to think of him as another character on the aspirational, almost mythic, deeply flawed Harry SSoB spectrum. Or, as it was put post read through, a 'bit of a git'. Now I'm going to have to pay attention to this git-dom to which I seem to condemn my leading men, but it stands that - albeit in a secret whisper - I do rather love them. I love them for what they would be, what they could be, rather than what they are. I may not entirely buy into how they see the world, but it doesn't mean that I'm not partial to their view. I'm looking at that green light at the end of a dock too*****. But a Ben condemned to git-dom poses more problems for Four Chords than a Harry condemned to git-dom does for SSoB. Ben carrys the weight of the narrative more than Harry does. I have to make an audience want him to succeed, even if only a little bit. And in giving Paul a story, in voicing an alternative narrative - one which stands opposite to that voiced by Ben - I'm giving Ben an opportunity to change. To see what life could be like for him. And it also means that Ben, finally, gets to express empathy for another person's position. Because Ben's major flaw is that he is too self involved, too preoccupied to ever look around and wonder what's happening to others around him. He's the artist; his feelings are the most acute, the most intense, the most painful. For Ben's story to be completed he must come to see that this might not be true. And it's with his new relationship with Paul that the possibility for this arises.

NB: As an afterthought I'm going to stick up basic synopses for Four Chords and SSoB just so that anyone who wants to have a vague idea as to what the heck I'm talking about.

*Oooo, I just invented that term. I think.

**There is such a thing as epic theatre still - particularly outside of London - but it would be suicidal for me to attempt a cast of thousands at this stage. Just you wait until I get to write for the Globe.

***So called because the actor gets a lot of opportunity to, erm, knit during the show.

****The narrator of Gatsby, Nick Carraway, is the ultimate watcher, whilst he would have us believe that Gatsby is the ultimate subject.

*****Yep, another Gatsby allusion.

1 comment:

Mark Roworth said...

Hi Corinne, came to your site via a Spencer Tunick group that has quoted you. I'm also a writer who can only say it while drunk. I've been at it for about fifteen years now, but only seriously in the last two or so, during which I have blogged regularly (dislocated.blogspot.com), mostly about travelling. I have just about finished the manuscript for a book - am in the proof-reading stage now. I am also one of those Brits who think they are the centre of all things and put their r's and e's the wrong way round!

I understand your point about writing about writing. It seems very narcisistic to do so, and I have avoided it mostly. I too write, expecting someone to read. To write without an audience, unless it is a personal diary, is a bit like shouting into a void. It's pretty pointless.

However, writing has become quite a major part of my life (besides posing for Spencer Tunick, but that's another story), and I have blogged a little about the process of writing, rather than the content itself. Also, now I am writing travel articles and submitting them to magazines, I have started to add snippets about the mechanisms involved there and the highs and lows of acceptance and declination.

I think the last of your worries is about boring your audience, for two reasons:

(1) you're not boring in your writing.

(2) if a reader is bored, they stop being a reader. Hence, you will no longer bore them.

(3) you have the odd picture in your blog. A reader will look at a picture and not feel bored, even if they don't bother reading anything!

Err... what is it I say now: Have a nice day... Best regards,

Mark