…….and it always surprises me to find that I’m having a lot of fun with it. I don’t know why I build it up in my head that it’s going to be hard to alter, edit, revise things, because when I actually sit down to do it, things start to work out. The story begins to flow a little easier, I can see what can be removed or embellished. In short, I can make it better by working on it, by going through each editorial note with care and applying it as best I can.
I suppose it’s performance anxiety of a kind.
In any case, I’ve got sixty plus pages edited from the original notes and two hundred and fifty plus more to go. Then I have to go back and look at the new notes. It’ll be a slow process, but now that I’ve figured out that it’s not the big bad bogeyman, I’ll be okay.
In the meantime, I’ll work on something else (Greek comedy, anyone?) and then get back to the edits, taking five or six pages at a time.
…..and I got stuck because of Zeus. Why, you ask, would the primary god in Greek mythology be such a problem that you got stuck when writing about him?
By rights, he should be a fun character to give life to on the page. He’s larger than life (because he’s a god, naturally), bombastic, can shape-shift into any creature or element he wishes, has the power to control the world and his fellow gods and goddesses.
Zeus should have been a piece of cake to write about.
But he wasn’t.
He started out as a Burl Ives caricature, then I took him out and made him a light/sound effect so that I could reduce the number of characters I had on-stage. Then I added him back on-stage, as a physical character, but with light and sound as his voice. A director read the work and came back with several notes, including one that gave Zeus his voice back.
‘Great,’ I thought, ‘This should be easy.’
I had gone through the first twenty pages, revising dialogue and cutting out unnecessary words (and this is how I know I’m a novelist at heart – I’m very wordy). I re-structured character motive and added new directions. All was going well, it was clicking along at a nice pace and I was enjoying the characters and their interactions.
Then I came to Zeus, his first entrance and everything came to a screeching halt.
I typed in his name, hit the Enter key to start his first line and………nothing.
Zip. Nada. Silence.
I put it aside, as I always do when I encounter difficulty. I still kept notes, writing down ideas that could be incorporated into the script. I even began to design a soundtrack, to help with the creative flow. Also, there’s a Greek Chorus and the Greeks were all about music, so it made sense to let that side develop.
But I was still stuck and Zeus, uncharacteristically, was stubbornly silent.
An article I’d read recently about character development had been ruminating in my thoughts – I don’t recall the title of the article or where I’d found it, but I will edit this post to add it should I be lucky enough to find it.
In any case, the article asked a lot of good questions and what I remember is this – what is your character’s over-riding arc? What is their question that needs answering? What is their need?
I began to ask this of my play’s characters and some interesting things began to come up, things that had been below the surface.
And then recent events and Zeus’s own well-documented behavior in his own myths began to shed some light on the subject. Now I know his questions, his arc and his need.
………..writer’s block, it’s called – but it has been known to strike in other art forms. Essentially, whether it’s through fear of not getting the final result of your art right on the first go or you’ve found yourself backed into a corner, the Block is a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. How does one get around it? Well, as with creating one’s art, getting un-Blocked is unique to the individual as well. What works for one may not work for anyone else. However, it certainly doesn’t hurt to try any or all options in order to find the way out of being stuck.
As a writer, I get blocked and stymied on my own creative projects all the time. I’ve used water color paints and a sketch book to find my way out of the corner I’d find myself in. But I also have a background in theater and lately, I’ve been using an actor’s technique when floundering over a stalled chapter – The Moment Before.
What is The Moment Before? Well, as I learned it, The Moment Before is a tool used by an actor or actress to understand who their character is before they walk out onstage. The characters don’t just come into existence because the playwright wrote “So-and-so enters from the kitchen up stage right”. It is the actor’s job to know what the character was doing in the kitchen (cooking? Crying? Arguing over the phone?) prior to their entrance.
This process is internalized by the actors, giving them a rich interior life and insight into the characters they play. It is not shared with anyone else in the cast – it is a discussion between the actor and the director alone.
So is this Moment Before to you, regardless of your art. When your project feels difficult and you’re struggling to make the next sentence or paint the next stroke or write the next lyric, stop and step back. Take a breath, find that rhythm prior to the block.
Find your Moment Before, re-focus and go forward.
Editor’s note – this blog post is published concurrently on Citizens Journal Ventura County.
….about my Current Work In Progress. Although approximately two-thirds written, I’m at a point where the story is starting to balk and refuse to move forward. The characters are trapped on the staircase in a forgotten and abandoned house, someone is at the front door, and the only way out is back the way they came – upstairs.
I know what’s going to happen after this bit, who it involves and the eventual wrap-up that is the final page, but I’m not sure of how I’m going to get there. Or what connects the current bulk of the manuscript to the final pages.
I also don’t want to write it.
Which is probably why the story has balked at this particular point and why I’m feeling kerfluffled. I don’t know why I don’t want to write this next section of the story, but I can feel it every time I sit down to work.
I’m avoiding it, I want to avoid it. Badly. But, like the characters in the story, I’m trapped. The only way out is not through an upstairs window, but moving forward and trusting the words that come out of my pen to show me the way.
Besides, it’s not like anything terrible is going to happen beyond betrayal, self-discovery and falling in love.