True Playwright Confessions
Today I was accidentally given the opportunity to read another playwright’s personal notes.
I didn’t know I was being invasive—I thought I was reading a script! But soon the author’s character names disappeared, unexplained abbreviations began to form, and a few pages later the entire narrative was gone. I was reading pure, unrefined playwriting thought.
As a playwright, this notetaking process is very familiar to me. When I write on the computer, I leave half-formed thoughts on the bottom of the page as I chisel away at the play itself on top. Finished prose stays above the cursor. Stray thoughts swim below. For this author I was now below the cursor.
I thought it was interesting that some of the notes consisted of short scenes of dialogue with no character names. Was this his way of generating dialogue at a speed closer to normal conversation? It was still obvious which line belonged to which character; the playwright or an editor could easily go back and assign the lines. Perhaps if I’m ever burdened with having too much in my head to write down, I’ll consider this method.
The remaining notes were familiar to me: underlined themes, character descriptions below that have been turned into dialogue above. Brief research. And, as always, one-liner jokes that are too good to leave unwritten.
There were only a few moments in which the author’s voice became very unfamiliar to me. It became a voice of God. Which is correct, but weird. I don’t write my notes that way.
How do I write them? Sometimes they’re just gag reels. Sometimes I create an outline on the computer and then merely make notes in the margins of my notebook. And sometimes, very rarely, I just start writing the play.
Enough talk: you deserve a firsthand look at what I do. My most impressive notes are for my play Menage a Sartre. A shamelessly pornographic play gave me a perfect excuse to “research” my work on a number of different websites. I also incubated a collection of jokes, naughty and nice. And now I’m going to share them with you:
Enjoy this journey below the cursor.