I like writing these little blog posts. They more reminders to myself about how and why to write plays than prescriptions for a playwriting populace. When I find myself doing it wrong or for the wrong reasons, I straighten out by writing to myself as a student. Thus, Bad Shaw Syndrome.

The playwright's job is to ask certain, complex questions of himself, others, the world. These are suppositional questions, often taking the phrases of "What if?", "What could happen?", "What could be?", "What could have happened here?", or often, "What's the worst that could happen?". The playwright tests the world, and more directly, the people in the world. And because we're playwrights and of the theatre, we turn these tests into public trials, not too unlike a witch hunt, public hanging, or televised celebrity trial (Hi2U O.J. Simpson).

Read more: Bad Shaw Syndrome

I just had a great idea. I should think about it for a while and construct a list of the 100 greatest people I can think of. Then I should write each of them a person-to-person letter, not an email, but snail mail, telling that person why I esteem them so highly, how they have impacted the way I live my life or do my work, what I think they are to the world, etc.. Hey, I write a pretty good letter. Then I'll either scan or type them up and post them on this here website o' mine, maybe I'll tweet about it. Maybe I can then turn all these letters I've written into some kind of live theater piece of some kind and it'll be something to talk about amongst other playwrights as a, 'Hey, here's this other thing I'm doing." And it'll mean something to a few of the recipients, perhaps some will write me back, and perhaps they'll let me post excerpts to my website.

The one thing I didn't rush to start doing with this actually quite pedestrian idea is sit down and start writing letters to people. Farthest thing from my mind.

Read more: Managing Artistic Debt

There is this one particular scene that's been giving me fits. In this rewrite, I'm trying to adhere all the branches to the trunk, so to speak, and this one scene simply won't bend. As with a living tree, forcing it to bend to my will is working out absolutely fantastically and we can all go home now. It either splinters, bends awkwardly and unsustainably, or simply resists and patiently waits for me to tire, on tree time.

The difference between now and right now. I started asking myself this about this scene. Is now right now? Turns out, this scene was so gosh darn close to now, it wasn't right fucking now. Without realizing it, anything that would and could happen in this scene was actually what would happen in a couple of days. Close enough, right? Not really. Right now is right fucking now, and it just so turns out that a very short amount of time before right now is merely now and that won't do at all. I tossed the whole scene out and starting writing it in the right now-version of now and the right nowness of it is far more now than just before now. Now is dead, long live Right Now.

There is another scene, a new scene, that needed to be written, but I couldn't figure out how to cut in. I know who is in the room, I know what has just happened, I know what one character is about to do that is going to set it off and running. But how to begin? It was very stagnant in my head, two characters more or less sitting there, lying there, having one of many smeared-up moments that are anything but anything. Sometimes, you peer into your characters' little world, waiting to take down what they say or do, and they blankly look back at you, waiting for you to do pretty much the same thing. Very High Noon. So I turned one of them upside-down. Physically. Perhaps all the blood went to his little head, but it worked--I mean, how long can you hang upside-down before you get a headache?

I invariably think I'm writing deep, meaningful dramas that will move the audience to copious tears and a realization of life in all its complexity and glory. Thus, I inevitably write comedy. In order to avoid writing comedy, I make sure to end every play in the death or destruction of something or someone, thus ensuring the play fits the description of a tragedy, not a comedy. And when I do so, I often construct the destruction of the thing that clears the way for a marriage or union of something else, ensuring the play is, indeed, a comedy.

You see, I'm truly a deep, morbid, brooding soul and I'm going to write characters full of emptiness, pain, suffering, and desperation. When the writing is going particularly well, I find the center bits of a character and am moved myself by something they say, do, or a horrible thing that happens to them that makes me really care, really get them. I'll run into a windowless room or hide under my desk for a while. This is how I expect the audience to respond as well.

Read more: On Being Laughed At

Let me get this right out there--I abhor direct address in most plays. It's a cop out employed by far too many playwrights, both established and obscure, in far too many plays. Unless you wrote Our Town or The Glass Menagerie, you will likely be better served by taking a hard, cold, preciousless look that narrator or those speeches directly to the audience and finding a way to accomplish the same thing within the action of the scene. Put this one next to voluminous stage directions for head scratchers of theatrical devices.

That said, I'm becoming fond of a rewriting exercise that can help track forwards in your play, clue you into a structure, and reveal those niggling audience questions that you are forced to answer so the wayward audience mind will silence itself and accept the story unfolding. The idea is to take a pass through a play and insert a narrator along the way, explaining to the audience (And right now that's you, pally) what it needs to know. If Exposition Man the narrator is such a common playwright crutch, it makes a kind of backward sense to concretize what you need to prop your play up, even if only to remove and replace it with a more organic alternative. That's like 9 mixed metaphors right there. You're welcome.

It's so awesome let's try. Here's a passage from an old play of mine that desperately needs such assistance presented by my own personal narrator, Virgil.

Read more: The Retroactive Narrator Exercise

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