ArtsIndependent celebrates the playwright and author.
All facets of the arts are of-value but – to us – in the end – they who create the characters and the situations have our undivided attention. Let’s hear about what some authors do to make magic:
Gary Morgenstein, playwright, author
As William Faulkner said, “a writer must throw away anything that is false no matter how much he might love that page or that paragraph.” My new novel, A Mound Over Hell, clocked in at 800 manuscript pages. I wrote and rewrote, always looking for the honesty in who the characters were, because at the end of the day, the novel belongs to them, not the writer. And then ultimately, it belongs, most of all, to the reader.
Patrick Hickey, author, journalist, interviewer, professor
My writing process is one that is entirely selfless. What would make someone stay on the page? Why should they care? Those are the things running through my head. It’s a journalistic approach as well since I’m a nonfiction writer. I don’t have the luxury of making things up. Long before my own hits the paper or my hands hit the keyboard, I’ve spent hours with the people and sources needed to write the story. So by that time, I’m invested far more than any fiction writer.
Kate Gill, playwright
The core inspiration for my writing is usually one small thing that inexplicably stops me and makes me see something in a new light – a newspaper item, a personal story, a scientific fact, or an odd comment – and I begin to imagine a story…then it can be a long time fermenting as I “meet” characters in my story and get to know them. When I sit down to write, I have the story and characters in mind but the process of writing impacts what I ultimately write – things change and evolve. Then I need to hear my work and get input from trusted colleagues as well as audience members. Filtering the feedback is hard work – what do I take and what don’t I take – I don’t always know what’s best right away.
Anthony J. Piccione, playwright, interviewer, reviewer
I usually start with a specific subject or basic scenario in mind. Sometimes, it might be inspired by an event I witnessed in my own life, but other times, it might have been inspired by something I read about or saw in another show, or in a film, or in the news. Sometimes, it can be completely random and hysterical. Other times, it might deal with a very serious or even controversial topic. On some occasions, it may even be a combination of both! Then, from there, I usually write out some sort of basic structure for how I want the story to go, and that can also vary, depending on the play. Then, after having written out an initial draft within that structure, there’s time to go back and change dialogue, potentially reorder scenes, and also make plenty of cuts or additions. After that, all that’s left to do is hope that a great director and great actors come along to take what I wrote, and turn it into great theatre.
Ilia Volok, playwright, adapter
Nicolai Gogol is one of my favorite writers. His ability to show the depth and the complexity of a common,”little” person is beyond words. This masterful combination of a realism, specificity, attention to detail and a heightened reality, as well as humor and drama of it was always extremely appealing to me. The process of bringing the nuances and the authenticity of an original material into a translation is not an easy task!
The main challenge was to adopt the “Diary of a Madman”, which is written in a form of a short story, and not specifically for stage, to a theatrical piece. Diary of a Madman has always interested me, but I wasn’t sure how to approach it until I started working with the director Eugene Lazarev. Together we were able to find our own voice to interpret this wonderful material.
Dorian Palumbo, playwright, author, reviewer, article and blog writer
I won’t get too elaborate about it, but there are a few things that I’ve found useful as my process has developed over the years. This applies to the dramatic writing and not to prose pieces, by the way. First, I find that it helps to take Shonda Rimes’s advice – I can write anywhere as long as I have a set of noise canceling headphones. Mine are Bose over-the-ear type, and I find that I can sit in the Public Library or a restaurant and still feel as if I have a bit of privacy. As I’m writing, I sort of toggle between working with a computer-based draft and working with a paper one. The story break develops first, and then gets filled in, directly in Final Draft, but once I have the first draft, I do the moment-to-moment work by slowing it down with a paper copy of the draft. Once I make adjustments on the paper draft and incorporate them into the net online draft, I print out again and read through for one character’s arc, then another characters, etc., making notes all along. Around draft 3 is when I usually send the draft to two of my trusted readers (I’m lucky enough to have four now, and use the two who are most suited to the type of material I’m working on), to see what kind of notes I get back. I address those notes in whatever way I think is appropriate, depending on what aspects of the script they target, and use them to get to draft 5 or 6. At that point, I may approach a director, or I may send it back to a trusted reader for another pass.
Lynn Navarra, playwright
I generally find a subject I’m interested in and see what I can do with it. My plays are all character driven, so my main focus is always on who my characters are and create situations that put them to the test. Once I know who they are, I can begin to see what they would do in a given set of circumstances, how they handle things. What always matters is what’s in the mind of the character, what motivates him or her to move forth the action of the play, what is the path they must take to see their way through the given predicaments put before them and how to make them stay true to themselves, which one can only do by intricately knowing who they are. I am also a linear writer. I begin with Act I, Scene I, and follow through to the end. However, this comes only through numerous drafts, revised scenes and dialogues with constant reading and updating. “Hearing” them is essential to determining whether or not they are reflecting of who they truly are. Whenever I find myself stuck I take a long walk and give it a good think and remain determined to crack the nut that is proving to be difficult at the time. The trick is always to keep them all on track and not allow them to get lost or diluted in conversations nor in the action of the play.
Jake Lipman, playwright and artistic director
When I sit down to write, I often reference multiple sources of inspiration. The most challenging and rewarding play I’ve ever written was my 2015 adaptation of the book THE INN AT LAKE DEVINE by Elinor Lipman (no relation). The story follows a girl named Natalie, who is growing up in New England in the 1960s and 70s. Her family had hoped to stay at the eponymous Inn at Lake Devine, but early on, they received a letter letting them know that as Jews, they would not feel comfortable staying there. This enrages Natalie, and when she meets a girl named Robin Fife at sleepover camp whose family stays at the Inn every summer, she finagles an invitation along with the Fife family. Once there, Natalie is entranced by the handsome sons of the Inn’s owners, the beautiful grounds, and a kind groundskeeper. Years later, Robin is getting married at the Inn and invites Natalie to return, and once there, Natalie finds herself falling for one of the sons of the Innkeeper who had denied her family entry all those years earlier. I had a great map for the highlights in the story from the source material, but I also had a couple of tricks up my sleeve. I wanted to incorporate music (I’m married to a composer, Philip Rothman), which was quite fitting with the story, because the Fife family is musical and their singing is a source of humor and celebration of milestones in the piece. I also wanted to borrow some stylistic touches from OUR TOWN by Thornton Wilder, which was a tremendously creative piece of theater when it first graced the stage. I allowed Natalie to directly address the audience, and had all the actors pantomime their actions. The true test of the fruits of my labor was the staged reading for an invited audience, a few months later. There, the novelist, Elinor Lipman, sat in the second row, watching as we read the play aloud. When the music played, underscoring a tragic moment in the piece, I could see she was crying. At intermission, she said, “I’m freaking out” — these words stopped my heart for second, if I’m being honest — but then she continued, “I love it.” Every show I create is different, but I think my process of borrowing ideas from other great works, coupled with the ace up my sleeve of my husband’s music, led to a piece which had a great deal of my ideas interlaced, too.
Doug DeVita, playwright, professor, reviewer, article writer
Jeez, I hate questions like this. Trying to answer them is torture, much like my writing process. But here goes: There’s a lot of staring at the paper. Or the computer screen. Or the computer. Or out the window. Or at the sky. Or my nails. There’s a lot of thinking involved. Probably too much thinking. There’s a lot of coffee involved, too. Perhaps lunch, as well. Perhaps too much of both, which then requires napping. (The food negates the effects of the caffeine on me. How lucky is that?) Let’s not even talk about Facebook or Turner Classic Movies. Do you know how many times I’ve seen “Ma & Pa Kettle Go To Hawaii,” and then boast posted about it? Occasionally I’m desperate enough to avoid that blank page (and brain) by cleaning the apartment. Or getting a mani/pedi. Or walking the dog. Well, that has to be done regardless. And he always needs to go out right when I’m at my most creative and ready to commit to actually writing something. (I tell myself that all the time. Most times it works. Most times? Oh, who are we kidding?)
If I’m really at my wits end, I might even go to that place I pay money to in case I might ever want to swim again. And then, just like when I’m getting ready to plunge into the pool, I fake myself out, sit down at my computer, and lose all sense of time as an endless load of crap pours out of me. (Don’t worry, I don’t actually crap in the pool, I just meant that I have to jump into that cold water when I least expect I’ll do so. Seriously, you thought I’d crap in a pool?) And then I’ll step back, read what I wrote, flee in horror to the nearest bar in my living room, think about what I’ve done, and punish myself with another martini. (And, quite possibly, another nap.) Then comes the fun part, my favorite part, the best part: revising. That’s when the real work gets done, because that’s when I’m most excited about writing. The hard part is over, the groundwork has been laid, the hangover is gone, and the endless possibilities for creative solutions to the problems I’ve created are ahead of me.
And THAT’S my writing process, right there.