Saturday, January 29, 2011

Writing Rules. How annoying is that?

I find that talking about the craft of writing can be a bit annoying. I should say, "to me" it can be annoying. Why? Well, because I truly believe that for each individual writer the method, process and execution is subjective.

What I really find annoying is other writers who firmly believe there is only one way to do it and they will teach you how! Oh boy! Really? I see posts from writers all over the internet with claims such as:

"The 5 things you must know about writing good characters"

"The 10 essential things every good story must have"

Sure, they may think they are being inspirational or even empowering, but really they are annoying. They fill me with wonder. First, I wonder why these writers are sitting around compiling lists of handy dandy tips and not actually writing? Why are they all up in our face with lists instead of working on their story, novel or play? Secondly, haven't they heard the old adage, "Those who can't Do, Teach"?

Yes, I realize that there are essential facts each new writer must know and understand, but I also know that it's essential for a writer to find his or her own voice and attempt to be original. As Judy Garland once said:

"Always be a first -rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else".

Bottom line: these oh so helpful writing tips were developed by somebody else. I want to write like myself not somebody else.

When I decided to write a short play for the first time, I did just that - I wrote a one act play. I did not immerse myself in "10 Cool Things Every First Time Playwright Must know Before Writing a One Act", no I just did it. I am not saying every new writer should get all "Nike" and "Just Do it" , I'm just saying that's the approach I took. (read: subjective) * I should also point out that I had quite a few years of experience as a stage actor and had a pretty good understanding about the structure of plays, so you could say I became a playwright through osmosis.

My point is this - if every writer followed all the methods proposed by every other writer, you know - the 5 things you must know about this and 10 things you must do about that, then we would all be writing in the same style. But the fact of the matter is that Hemingway's style was not like Steinbeck or Fitzgerald. Neil Simon style is a tad different than Ibsen or Mamet.

Now having said this so far, I can hear some urging the point: "But you have to know the rules of writing otherwise it would be chaos!" True. I would agree with that. I mean you have to know how to use words and where to put the periods. You have to know how to tell a good story. But what I am saying is be aware of the rules so that you can bend and break them.

Take for instance the French film maker Jean-Luc Godard. Take a look at his film "À bout de souffle" or as we Americans say "Breathless". This landmark French New Wave film caused quite a stir in 1960. Why? Well, the rules of film making went right out the window. Godard made use of "jump cuts" - instead of smooth linear scene of two people talking, we witness a virtual ADD event.
Jean-Paul Belmondo is standing as he speaks, suddenly he's sitting, then standing. Jean Seberg is riding in a car, her position and the background abruptly change over and over. Why did Godard do this? Because he could. The cinematic rule about continuity in a scene was broken. Godard knew it. He was well versed in all things Cinema. He was well aware of the rules - you must do this and you can't do that - and he said, So What?

When I began writing Murder Mystery plays, I was aware of the formulas of that genre. I also aware those formulas had been done to death. (no pun intended, well maybe a little) I set out to shake up the traditional must dos and should nots of Murder Mystery plays. I believed the only way to find my own voice and create my own style was to run as far away from "tradition" as possible. Sure, some would say to me, "but you don't have a red herring here and no real foreshadow there" and like Godard, I said, "So what?"

My advice is simply this, yes, be aware of the rules, how people write, what methods are out there, structure, plot, character etc.. and then throw them all away and just write. You can read the inspirational tweets and must do lists, but realize they are the thoughts, ideas and practices of someone else who probably learned them from someone else. If it's a really hot day outside and little Suzie from next door sets up a Lemonade stand out front, yea, that's a good idea. Should you then follow her idea and set up your own Lemonade stand next to Suzie? Or should you shake it up a tad and offer Kool-Aid? Really, it's whatever you want to do. It's subjective.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New One Act Play "The Snow Day Monologues"

Thought I would re-post this piece since we have had nothing but snow day after snow day here in the Midwest.  This was originally posted in 2011.

It was a major coincidence that January 10th was a Snow Day here in St. Louis and I launched a New Play called "The Snow Day Monologues". No really it was.

I had been working on this One Act play for a few months now. I had been thinking the excitement I underwent as kid upon learning my school was "closed" due to "snow" and the different stages of emotions I would experience such as: joy, boredom, intrigue, cabin fever, delusions of grandeur and finally exhaustion.

I began writing from the point of view of a few characters who are stuck at home on a snow day and explored their individual thoughts as short monologues in a one-act structure. The characters eventually grew into six separate individuals; three boys and three girls and what they did to pass the time. Some would face issues or problems they had at school, others would fight boredom and try to entertain themselves and while others would use the time to reflect. There is nothing like being stuck in a confined space for a long period of time to activate the imagination.

I also wanted to create a funny yet insightful piece for young actors to interpret and explore. I've read enough grade school/high school scripts to realize there was a place for something a bit different. Many of my original Murder Mystery scripts are very popular with High School groups so why not create something funny and relevant they could relate to - that wasn't in the Murder Mystery genre?

Also instead of the standard "monologue" style where one character stands up and speaks at length for a while, why not break that convention up and spread it out? For example, as one character begins his or her monologue it then flows into another character who begins and on to another character. A common theme would tie them all together and we could jump around from one monologue to the next and experience each as a whole through various scenes. Perhaps a reflection of ever shortening attention span to which we humans are growing accustomed. Yea, anyway, I have to go shovel the driveway now.

Check out a short sample to play HERE

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Auditions, Perfomance and other such


Auditions for the murder mystery dinner theater “I’m Getting Murdered in the Morning” will be held Monday and Tuesday (Jan. 10 and 11) from 7 to 9 p.m. at Bradford Area Public Library. (That's Bradford PA)

The Production will be directed by Kristin Asinger. Kristin is looking for
"14 people who can play together, as well as work together. There are roles for both men and women from late teens to their 70s, and both experienced performers and first-timers."

Performances will be Feb. 25-27 at St. Bernard Educational and Social Hall on East Corydon Street.

More details can be found here 1490 NewsBlog


The Monroe Township High School Footlights club will perform Some Show (about a murder) Jan 13th and 14th. The MTHS Footslights club is located in Monroe Township New Jersey. More details Here


I found a nice review of my play "Stay As Dead As You Are" from the Cheraw Chronicle (Cheraw, South Carolina). Here is a snippet from Gregorio Padilla's article:

"The production was a light, almost murder mystery involving outlawed recreation toys, class clowns, high school sweethearts and a twist that left the audience crying in their seats from the nonstop laughter."

You can read the whole story here The Cheraw Chronicle.