Diary of a New Play, Day 3
Dawn in Chicago. Warmer today. Snowing, but a little warmer—not that I’m going outside. I open the script. I stare at the page. I take some notes. I tinker with the preliminary information but I’m really thinking about the guy who will play the expert. Last night, Beth told me about him. Tucker. I looked him up. Creds. Just makes me more scared. I stare at the page. I read a little bit of Your Screenplay Sucks. And why am I reading this? To further demoralize myself. It says my character has to know what he wants. My character doesn’t know what he wants? Sure he does. Maybe. Well, in a pinch he could make up some esoteric statement on the nature of firearms. And I’m not writing a screenplay so the rules are different. Or are they?
Later. I’m still crazy, still in my jammies. In my head, an avalanche of tumbling ideas that will not stop. It’s dentrite roulette in there. Spinning. Spinning. Finally, I stop imagining my total embarrassment long enough to make one small decision—to focus on the Expert, to just work on him. He’s a professor type character who offers up the technical language on the firearms, what they do to tissue. Back to the question: what does he want? Though I am experiencing anxiety the size of Alaska, I’ll try to keep the energy on him, because…because I’m interested in a character who presents as smarter than he is but who is really a mess—I wouldn’t know anything about that. Yeah right, I wish. Lost my keys three times today—and I wasn’t going anywhere. But this, maybe I can do. Steering the work to just one character, I might get a small grasp on the practical arc. Let the rest fall away. I will focus on his story.
I work through the day. What I notice now? A lot of really obtuse language, and some very pretty but esoteric polemic. Who wrote this? What schlock. I’m pacing again, drinking ginger tea made with real ginger and gnawing on the ginger slices at the bottom of the mug as I walk from room to room. This to avoid eating tons of chocolate. The cats watch, concerned looks on their furry faces. Will I remember to feed them? As a cat sitter, I am their worst nightmare.
What is at the Expert’s center? He pretends to have control of everything but he doesn’t interfere with anything. And he’s committed to his specialty—this tutorial, this document he claims is the answer to understanding firearms. Why? OOOOOOOh. Was Beth right? What if the Expert becomes God? NOT God with a capital G, but a small god, a god who’s been diminished, demoted.
But then, do I need to know why?
I ask the play.
ANSWER: It’s a tale. Maybe not.
I continue the script ouigi.
Even though it’s a tale and it might not have to appear on the page, do I as a playwright need to know that.
ANSWER: Oh probably. But then the play says, Don’t get hung up on that.
So I promptly get hung up on that, pace back and forth for another hour. The ginger is gone by then. If this were the SAT’s, my time is up. Ding.
Next question: I ask, What’s at stake for him?
ANSWER: Better be something big.
His job? His privilege as a miracle worker?
ANSWER: Just not big enough.
The Play slyly suggests: His child?
The girl who becomes the bullet.
Oh don’t go there, please don’t make me go there.
I have to go there.
It’s the first fresh idea in an entire 3 ounce ginger root, and yes I’ll probably change my mind, but for now, we’re going there.
The play goes quiet while I work on the Expert as a god with a small g who has a child who becomes a bullet. When I look up it’s dark and I have a headache, and the cats haven’t been fed. But he’s getting more interesting, and I’ve cut a lot of dialogue that didn’t play, and I’m starting to feel for him. I haven’t gotten enough done, but I have gotten something done. I know it will all get written all over again, but this layer feels ok for about ten minutes.
I get up to feed those cats. They are so grateful, they purr. Then I ransack the cupboards for chocolate.