Unruly children

I was asked to write a post for the blog about Molly Eyre. When I asked if there was anything specific I ought to be writing, I was told “something about your new play…”  Here is what I decided on. A little piece about badly behaved characters.

I have come to realise there are some similarities between raising children and giving a voice to characters in a work of fiction. Prime among them is that they refuse to do as they are told. I’m working on a play at the moment, and following some insights I gleaned at a series of workshops given by CJ Hopkins, I decided to try and replace my rather ambling approach to plotting with something more systematic.

It was a departure, and within a relatively short space of time, I knew exactly what was going to happen in my second act, as opposed to just having a rough idea. When I sat down to put flesh on the bones of my plot, I could almost hear my one-time tutor Richard Beard, novelist and director of the National Academy of Writing (NAW), cheering me on. (“Write towards something, Tamsin…”) So I did.

I wrote. And I wrote. And I wrote some more. But my characters were not saying what I wanted them to, and they were certainly not sticking to my carefully mapped out plot. On the contrary, they were tearing it up as if they were two year-olds and it were a crisp newspaper.  And when they finally ran out of energy, and were sitting in a sea of paper sheds, tired out from the sheer exhilaration of being alive and thoroughly disobedient, they looked at me and started to cry for help.

My response was to take them out for a run. When I run, I sort out my writing questions. Unblock my blocks. Time and again. So we ran; my characters and I. And as we went, I laid down some ground rules. I told them that from now on in, we would be writing the play my way, not theirs. There would be no more plot shredding. They would go where I said, when I said, and what’s more, they would say what I said. They conceded, and by the end of the run, I had them back under control.

On that basis, we started over. We trotted along nicely for the first seven pages of Act II, and I allowed myself to think “this not so hard after all”. But then just as we were moving onto page eight, they suddenly reared, broke free of their reins and galloped off around a corner. I had two choices: I could let them go and follow them with interest, or try and catch them up and bring them back into line. I opted for the former.

They are still going, and I am still interested. So for now I have decided to stick to my more ambling plotting methods; the ones that allow my characters to become who they are going to become without too much meddling from me. I’m sure I will still offer them advice from time to time, and I hope that even if they don’t actively listen, they at least hear, and that the essence of what I try to teach them will reveal itself in surprising and beautiful ways.

One comment on “Unruly children

  1. […] mentioned in an earlier post about unruly children that I was attending a series of (play and screenplay) workshop run by CJ Hopkins. Those have now […]

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