Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Pinter? Have They Actually Seen His Plays In A Theatre?

Pinter? Have They Actually Seen His Plays In A Theatre?

I've played enough getting to know people games during play rehearsals to be slightly suspicious when someone announces the intention to play such games when I'm sat in a room of strangers. I immediately scan the surroundings to make sure that there isn't a broom handle lurking nearby which they're going to make us decapitate each other with. Thankfully I didn't manage to locate any supposedly innocent looking weapon with which to break my thumbs. Instead these are going to be mental games. And I'm mentally thankful that I'm in a room of writers rather than actors.

We separate ourselves into pairs and get our first question. Name our favourite animated film. Ok, easy enough - The Little Mermaid. My partner says Yellow Submarine. Ok on that score too - I can remember that.

Then we swap partners. Next question. Name your favourite Elvis song. And this is where I start to think that these questions are not exactly tailored to my needs. I maintain that you either belong in the Beatles camp or the Elvis camp and I am firmly sitting in Penny Lane on this one. I don't have a favourite Elvis song. I don't think I could name that many of his songs. Just to avoid looking like a chump in the company of all these new writers - who are clearly Elvis fans - I settle for Suspicious Minds because it's either that or Jailhouse Rock. My partner plumps for Burning Love which I haven't even hear of.

Another partner swap. Name your favourite writer. Ah-ha I'm back on track. But this is hard in a different way. Favourite novelist, playwright or poet? I mean how is a girl supposed to pick favourites from her Icons? I say Ginny Woolf, because it feels right. My partner says Reginald Hill. I haven't heard of him either - and I thought that I'd do better on this round. I'm informed he's a crime writer, but an intelligent crime writer as he went to Cambridge. I have to swallow the urge to offer my commiserations.

Another swap. Favourite monster. Again - I don't have one. I don't like horror. I plump for Frankenstein just because of Mary Shelley. My partner says Igor from Young Frankenstein.

Final swap. One thing that you would you put in room 101. And I remain more unsure of this than the Elvis one. Because I can't chose something so idiosyncratic that no one will understand [thus ruling our rhetoric, deck shoes and the vast number of people involved in the tortuous-reality-tv-show], in my head at least the rules of room 101 mean that you can't put in something like war or famine and it's probably too early on in the process to say people who over use apostrophes. So I go for slugs on the basis that I don't like them and can't really see their point in the great scheme of things. My partner says school and, despite the fact that I am clearly the third youngest in the room, I feel old.

Then it's back to our seats and we go round the circle with people having to shout out the answers for each person. Me being me I find the answers to the writers question most interesting. I immediately feel warm towards the owners of 'Jane Austen', 'Evelyn Waugh' and 'Roald Dahl'. I do a double take at 'Jilly Cooper'. And I feel deeply suspicious of 'Harold Pinter'.

The second half of the evening is spent bashing through the fifteen or so rules of writing drama. I've got a semi-obsession with reading 'how to' books so I've heard a lot of them before but it's nice as refresher and there are a couple of really interesting diversions that I hadn't come across. I can already see people in the group slipping into roles. There's the guy who is clearly looking to disprove what Cately is saying - and for some reason can't get round the fact that all characters in a play must want something. And because it's probably the first thing I learnt - the thing that I take for granted - I stare at him as if he's just asked for a refresher of the alphabet. I can already tell that as a group we're working at different speeds, possibly because we don't have the same frame of reference (the girl next to me has never even started a play - I've had one staged; however seemingly small in the great scheme of things it's an undeniable gulf) and I get that creeping feeling of impatience that I haven't felt for such a long time, certainly not since I finished sixth form. Faster, faster - more, more. And as I know that this says more about me than about the others in the room I'm a little annoyed at myself.

Then we get to the big issue of structure - and I've forgotten my impatience because this is good, intriguing stuff that I didn't know about. Basically we should all forget those 'there are only five storylines in the world' things. On a structural level at least, there is only one.

Every story might be subtitled 'The Quest'. In short a story is always about a character wanting something and their journey to either get or be denied this want. And this fits into a five act structure:

Act 1 - The inciting incident. Dorothy crushes the witch. Oliver asks for more. Romeo meets Juliet. Hamlet speaks to the Ghost.

Act 2 - Things go ok on the quest.

Act 3 - Things start to go downhill.

Act 4 - Nightmare time.

Act 5 - Resolution. Which usually involves the character finding out that what they want may well be different to what they need.

And then we had to fit our own film examples to this. I cheat slightly to start with and fit Othello as a practice run. It works. So I try Four Weddings (which is quite interesting in that it starts with a character wanting to not get married. A not want we might say) which also works. I struggle a bit to make it fit for Closer (the first inciting incident, after all, happens off stage - if not off screen - when Alice gets knocked down and consequently meets Dan) but if I take each of the characters as being the main character then each has its own version of the structure. Possibly the closest I can get to plays which I consider to work but which don't either use or reverse the structure entirely are big ensemble pieces - like Talking to Terrorists, or The Permenant Way or, to a lesser degree, Stuff Happens. But then the structure is implicit in each of the individual character arcs - as it is in something as spectacularly unlinear as My Mother Said I Never Should...

So I left the room pondering the new pieces of scaffolding I'd just been given. And wondering only a little about what the heck I'm going to write for the showcase in five weeks time.

1 comment:

Billygean said...

Hm I'm not sure that's a plot as a narrative. I think if you're general enough anything can fit anything, but wasn't it Labov that says the way in which human language tells stories goes:

1. background
2. something happens out of the ordinary of that background
3. how you learn from it

etc etc. There's a big list, look him up;).

For my Freud/Jung/Lacan module I had to read "The Seven Basic Plots" by Brooker. Amazing book, and so true.