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Friday
Aug052011

Retrospective: On Time Travels and Comics Scripting

Now, this post was originally going to be in a thread of Gamers With Jobs, which is a frequent and several-years-deep virtual hangout for me, a place where I discuss all manners of things geeky but (mostly and unsurpisingly) game-related.  Since this damn thing got away with me -- close to 2000 words -- I thought I'd spare the thread and bring it over here.  Notice, please, that it took on the shape of a post in a thread on writing in a geeky gaming forum, so it's bearing that stamp as written.


I'm going to wade in here, not only because comics-scripting is a passion of mine, but also because I did spend much of my creative writing energies in college on learning how, and my only notable creative writing success had to do with it.  That said, keep in mind -- like most of us in this thread, my bona fides are thin-to-non-existent, but I've been down the road of taking a concept from rough-shape to fruition, and actually had it drawn, lettered, published, and received a check for my efforts.  So the advice is coming from a direction that has some experience, even though I'll be the first to acknowledge that my experience is a raindrop in an potential ocean of experience.

The greatest moment on television.All of that, of course, is the prelude before I start talking like I'm King Shit of Awesome Mountain or whatever, so grain-of-salt-it, please.  I mean, I know you merely know me as the loudmouth from the comics-thread with the Lost avatar, so to whatever degree that's a help or a hindrance, take it for what you will...

I've never had to write a comic script for anyone other than myself, and while a lot of comic scripts I've seen outline panels per page pretty precisely (how's THAT for alliteration?), I feel like I would be limiting my artists a bit. That, and what I plan out could end up looking pretty shitty in the long run. So I figure I'll write first, then work with the artists and see what they come up with.

My biggest advice here is go full script, and I'll tell you why: the most successful scripts I've had done (which I'll be liking to the twenty-odd published pages I referenced above, plus two or three-odd eight-pagers that were published on a very, very indy scale; but I worked with one of those artists on silly, college, dorm-room stuff that ran in the eight-odd page range, but never saw the light of day...thankfully) were the ones where I did work full script, and those worked much better and seemed to make my artists happier.

That said, if you've got an arrangement with your artist, great!  Work how you guys want to work, in whatever way makes you most comfortable.  

But if you want to hone your comics-scripting skills, going full script is absolutely the way to go.  Here's why:

Wally Wood's "22 Panels..." Essential for *anyone* wanting to create comics.1) It will help you become a visual storyteller.

Those early, college scripts I worked on with my artist pal Reilly Brown were ones I wrote in a very loose, almost-hybrid form that was half playscript, half-screenplay.  I described the action, wrote the dialogue and captions in lettering-ready detail, but I only broke it down page-by-page, with the action broken by dialogue and captions where appropriate.  It worked well, but it also meant I was overloading the pages with material and, though my pacing was instinctive, I know it led to Reilly having to cut here, choose there, etc.  We were both dumb, hungry underclassmen, so it basically worked out, but it also meant I was writing long dialogue scenes (which is what interested me), and the only help I was giving him was slugs with character names and little else.

Shameful, really.

Because the truth was Reilly was taking on the lion's share of the storytelling with that project -- the rhythms and the beats which are essential to conveying the story down the page.

Which leads me to:

2) The Script is Not Sacrosanct

Alan Moore, circa 1986. So I've heard.Since the job of the script is to direct the story to your artist, your editor, et cetera, it really takes on the blueprint quality of a screenplay or playscript -- it's meant to communicate to your collaborators, and get the end product close to what you conceived, with that artist's strength in mind if at all possible.

It's that last part as the key.

Dear Alan,
tl;dr
Sincerely,
Dave
If you've ever seen Alan Moore's scripts -- pages for Watchmen are reprinted from time to time in various editions -- they're ridiculous precisely because he's writing for tone and feeling rather than anything else.  He goes into minute detail -- for pages on end -- describing individual panels.

 

Now, I'm not advising that, certainly -- Moore's a madman, and that's why everyone loves him -- but this is the beautiful part: in the pages in the back of my treasured, oversized hardcover of Watchmen are these scans of Dave Gibbons' actual, working pages of Moore's script.  Scanning through the tl;dr wall of text of Moore describing the opening panel -- with reams and reams of description both rambling and sensory, describing angles and textures and all of that -- Gibbons has, for instance, highlit in yellow a description of a smiley-face button, and highlit in purple, say, the camera angle, et cetera.

 

That's what he can actually draw based on Moore's rambling, and it's the fusion of those two heads that make that book great.

So, short version: use the document as a way to convey to your artists what you're getting at in the best way possible; but if you keep it too loose, you can run the risk of boring your artist, or putting too much on their plate, when your job as the writer is to keep an overall vision of the pacing of the piece.

Which leads me to my last point which is:

3) The Story should work, at its most basic level, without your words.

This was the hardest thing for me to accept -- it took me most of my protracted college career to get, to be quite honest -- but in the same way that movies should be able to convey the very basic idea of the story if the soundtrack died out, comics function in the same way: because both are a combination of words and images.

Instead of "Meet Cute" this should be "Lobbied Cute."

Right now, as I type this, I've got The American President on in the background, sound running.  I've seen the film several times (I'm a Sorkin geek), but the scene currently running -- Michael Douglas and Annette Benning the night after they first sleep together, with a stream of people coming in the door as she gets dressed and he looks out the window -- at least tracks, insofar as the two leads had a night together and business needs to be conducted with her absence, without any of that dialogue.  

Now, the nuance of the scene -- that her having spent the night with the President, and her presence has caused a flurry of investigative reporters to pry into the president's private life, as the staff tries their damndest to put out the political fire immediately -- doesn't track at all, but the successive scene -- a montage of reporters hounding the couple and Annette Benning individually, a flag-burning photograph arriving on the mustache-twirling villain's desk, et cetera -- does track without sound.

"Vitruvian Man" sounds like an early Vertigo comic, doesn't it?That job, telling the story with images, making sure it hangs together without any words, could certainly be in the wheelhouse of the artist, and if your artist is comfortable with that share of the work, great!  Go to town.

But consider what takes that artist eight-to-eighteen hours per page to draw.  They've got on their plate:

  • fundamentals of perspective, character-design, drawing on-model, drawing props, costumes, et cetera; 
  • distance to-and-from camera, and how that communicates to the audience; 
  • nuances of emotion, expression, body language, and other acting elements;
  • simple cinematography techniques (180-degree line, lighting, framing balance, etc.); 
  • balancing all of those elements into a readable page;
  • lots and lots of other things;
  • drawing hands (Have you ever tried?  Those bitches are hard to draw!).

I think, at the very least, part of the writer's job -- including being brilliant with the storyline, being inventive and naturalistic with the dialogue, making sure the pacing at the page-and-installment-and-overall-plot level works, and having all those other wonderful literary elements of theme, conflict, character, et cetera track -- part of that job just might include making sure that the story has an interesting visual through-line, and hangs together based on that same trait.

Otherwise, why not make it a book, right?

If the story must be a comic book, then your job as the writer -- particularly if you're not picking up the pencil yourself -- is to justify it in the script.  

None of that's to say, of course, that what the writer has to do apart from that visual element isn't hard, or creative, or inventive, or anything else -- but it is to say that the medium is the message, so if choosing a comic as your form is going to be the best for the project, then them's the breaks.

That's my two cents.


So, now that I've gone and shot my mouth off, here's my example/template as a way that I've worked, not as a proscription for how everyone should (since the beauty of comics is there is no codified method of working).  It's also not the only way I've worked, but it's the way I've felt most creatively successful, to be honest.

An early cover/logo design. Art by Reilly Brown.It was the spring of '07, and my aforementioned buddy Reilly got me involved with this project for the Montclair Art Museum in Montclair, New Jersey.  They were doing a retrospective on super-hero comics in the 20th Century and wanted a comic that would help explore the intersection between those comics and world events -- since that was, as I understood it, the thesis of the exhibit.  It needed to be a) family friendly, b) involving some of the comics that were featured in the exhibit, c) tie in to major historical events (WWII, 9/11, etc.), and hopefully d) entertaining.

Some gears were already in place when I came on board, but this was my pitch document, which outlined the overall story -- some of which was restricted by the format (it had to be told in chapters, since we had a page length, and Reilly had the artists -- a slate of excellent dudes from Ten Ton Studios, including Jason Baroody, Aaron Kuder, Khoi Pham, and Chris Burnam -- pretty-much lined up to divide up the page count, etc.), and some of which was restricted by time (looking back through the e-mails, at the time Reilly approached me, they were hoping for a finished script in a week!  I think I turned it around, soup-to-nuts, in more like a month.)

Early Lettering on Page 1. Pencils by Reilly Brown. Lettering by Me.Once they liked the general synopsis, I made a point of writing a rough script in a panel-by-panel form with no dialogue, and I did this for two reasons: 1) because I wanted to make sure the script tracked visually; and 2) because it meant, to the extent that the rough draft tracked and was approved, the artists could get started drawing, or at least roughing, their chapters.  Hope sprang eternal; it didn't quite work out that way, but that was the design.  This was also to send in to the museum for, again, further editorial approval.  The upshot was, I could read through this script sans dialogue and track with the story pretty well, since I was reassured there wasn't a wasted panel.

Final lettered Page 6. Art by Aaron Kuder. Lettering by Me.As I started to script it, my second draft was my first stab at all the dialogue, et cetera.  Some sequences -- particularly the ending -- just plain didn't work, but I tended to resist messing with the panel descriptions, since those had already gone to the artists.  This was the real meat of the work came for me -- the rough draft probably took an afternoon, and I know this draft was the better part of a day, which was probably compressed because of the timeline and my need to take a day off from the retail job I was working simply to get the draft done.  It still stands as one of my favorite "working" days of my writing life.

Early lettered Page 18 (Note differences in balloon placement, etc., with the published version in the link to the left.). Art by Chris Burnham. Lettering by Me.My final draft was ultimately tweaks and changes made as the artists started working, and as Reilly and I kept futzing with various moments that needed special care and attention -- either because they didn't work quite right, or because we were dealing with some pretty sensitive material.

This is where we landed.  Enjoy.


All the art above were done by members of the Ten Ton Studios collective, many of whom are currently making serious coin as working artists in the comics industry.  

I can't stress this enough, but they're all good dudes, so I encourage anyone reading this post to check out their site and seek out their stuff -- they're brilliant storytellers, as you can clearly see.

Friday
Apr222011

Super-Pepper Upper

Coolest. Dude. Ever.So we're on spring break, and at the tail end of the long, long, long process of producing You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown for my high school.  It's really a lovely show, and I've had a blast directing it, and though it's been trying and difficult at times, I'm certainly glad to be going through it.

That said, I was pretty much ready to shoot myself in the face this week.

Let me back up.

On the left: Audrey II. On the right: Seymour Krelborn.Last year, directing Little Shop of Horrors was its own particular nightmare, not the least of which was it was the first musical I'd ever directed.  First full-length play I took on sole reins, about the third or fourth directing gig total for me.  Big, big deal.  Anyway, what I learned is that a) a musical is super-complicated -- about four to five degrees of magnitude more complicated than most other shows; and b) choreography complicates that even further. 

Last year, I desperately needed a choreographer for some of the work, found an able, willing, and more-than-capable choreographer in a parent of a student, and ended up with a really good working relationship.

Charlie Brown, on the other hand, hasn't needed the choreography as extensively -- both in the nature of the show itself, and in my take on the show itself.  That said, there were two numbers that have been giving me the heebie-jeebies the whole run -- since, really, December, which was when we started auditions -- and that's mainly because they'd be the most extensively choreographed numbers of the show.  All throughout rehearsal, the two numbers got more and more backburnererd due to a large number of factors, not the least of which was the intimidation factor for myself and the two leads who are soloing the songs.

Well, this week we needed to bite the bullet on both of them, and the on the one song, "Suppertime," we'd roughed out enough of a map that picking back up with it this past Tuesday was a bit of a snap.  The main issue, as we worked with it, was an incomplete cast, but we were able to work out some of the broad strokes moments, and I had the missing cast members placed in my head, so it was just a matter of showing them yesterday where they were going.

I think we did you justice, man...But then there was the issue of the Woodstocks.

See, the show doesn't include any Woodstock in the script whatsoever -- no mention, a slight reference in the song "Snoopy," but that's it.  It's really a tight, small cast -- six leads, and that's it.  In the interest of involving more students, I created the idea of the Woodstocks as some wordless, physical characters who can fill space on stage, serve as Snoopy's right-hands, and generally be a fun element to the show.  They are essential for making my version of "Suppertime" come off all right, since the song builds and builds, and the first stage of it building are the Woodstocks setting Snoopy and Charlie up with top-hats and canes, and doing kind of a "crappy" version of a choreographed, Busby Burkeley sort of number.  That way, when the rest of the cast enters, then it becomes a bit tighter, a bit more choreographed, a bit more like a "real" dance number, all culminating with a Baptist revival choir, and Snoopy turning into her own version of James Brown, as the hardest working dog in show business.

That "real" part of the number was worked out, so what to do with the Woodstocks?

Well, the fun of yesterday's rehearsal was working out exactly that and, to be perfectly honest, part of that fun was that, once the song really gets going, I had no plan.  I knew what I wanted up to, and including, the "crappy" version of the number -- and the beauty of that is, apart from very general directions, I don't need to tighten that portion of the song all that much -- but after that I didn't have a real tight idea of what the Woodstocks were doing.  (Part of that is that they've been a bit of a revolving door in terms of casting, but that's a whole other story.)

So when we finally ran all the parts of the song, placed end-to-end, it worked and it worked well.  It's not perfect, it needs tightening, but it works and that's enough for this week.

He's just as self-reliant as before..."My Blanket and Me" on the other hand...

 That's a really delightful song, an ode from Linus to his trusty, conspicuous blanket, and in terms of casting, I can't be any happier with the student in the role -- he's filling a thankless role that essentially makes him the butt of all the jokes that Charlie isn't the butt of.  That said, the student's giving an honest, forthright performance, doing some of the best "hesitation" acting I've seen in awhile.  The subtext we're basically working with is that 90% of the time, Linus is ahead of just about everybody else.

But this song is a kid singing about how much he loves his blanket.  It's about as revealing and romantic of a song, in a way, as an actual kissing scene would be.  And it probably doesn't help that when the script calls for the blanket to "rise and dance with Linus," I'm making the blanket a person.  It's weird.

That said, that song's worked, for the most part, just fine -- except for the middle two-odd minutes listed in the script, merely, as DANCE.  I've needed our parent from last year and, much the way the cookie has crumbled and through nobody's fault but my own in communicating that need in a timely fashion, it just hasn't worked out.  Which left this past Wednesday to working out that dance portion.

The last time we had worked it, I had whittled that two-odd minutes down some -- both to make it easier in the week-and-a-half we have left to perfect the damn thing, but also to have less to come up with in terms of steps.  Beloved Sister Nancy contributed a Foxtrot and some variations, something she learned in college and that fits the rhythm of the song well.  All along, I've been trying to describe my idea as a "Civil War Cotillion," as that's the image I get in my head.

So complication...forty-five at this point is the room on stage.  We're a small school, with an even smaller stage and house, and our decision for this year's pit was to place it on stage, and that I'd block around the thing.  Six person cast, this seems do-able, right?  Except when you want the entire cast, essentially, doing some lame version of a twirling ballroom cotillion. 

Tried it Wednesday, and it sucked. 

Frankly, it sucked, and it was all me and this stupid concept.  So we took about a ten minute break as I reconcieved it, and instead made the cotillion a line at the downstage edge of the stage, with different "couples" being featured, dancing with their blankets, ending with Linus and his blanket at center stage.  We tried it there and, apart from tightening timing...

...the damn thing worked.

It's far from perfect, but it's ours -- mine and the cast's -- and it's going to work on show night.

So far, far too long of a story run short: day-of inspiration works just as well, sometimes, as preparation; and happy accidents can leave you very happy indeed.

Thursday
Jan272011

Sound and Silence

Yeah, it's been an embarrassingly long time since the last update, busy semester, blah blah blah, and we'll just leave it at that.

I did, however, get the chance to teach playwrighting to my Acting class this past semester -- in a small unit, one that went much better in my head than in actual practice, but what is it they say that makes perfect?  Anyway, in the process, I think I helped codify a few prinicples, not only about playwrighting in particular, but writing in general that I thought were both interesting and, in some ways, intuitively true.  To whit:

I taught a general prinicple that the playwright's two biggest tools are sound and silence, and the interplay between the two can be used to achieve desired effects.  In a lot of ways, that seems to be the job -- is someone talking, or not.  Is there sound, is there silence?  It's binary, and it's reductive, but it seems really simple and really true.  What sound there is can be used to tell the story, but so can silence.

Now, I realize this is discounting things like stage directions and the like, but 1) a director's going to fudge/change/recontextualize stage directions at their whim...er, discretion, so that's not wholly under the playwright's control; and 2) most legal wrangling I've ever dealt with concerning plays and playwrights has everything to do with the words themselves, and nothing else.

Pictured: how Samuel Beckett leaves your brain.So: sound, silence.

Anyway, I taught this as a bedrock prinicple, and when it came time to write a question for the final exam, I gave that as the correct answer, two silly answers that should have been painfully, obviously wrong, and then the fake-out, maybe-it's-right answer of "subtext and motivation."  I figured it was a good enough, plausible-sounding fake-out, but considering I spent all my time talking sound and silence, I figured it was a no-brainer.  Of course, teaching being what it is, I had many students answer the plausible-yet-wrong answer of "subtext and motivation," so that got me thinking.

Are they wrong?  Aren't subtext and motivation really big tools in the playwright's toolbox, big enough to warrant their mention alongside sound and silence?  Are they even bigger than sound and silence?

The more I think about it, though, the more I think they're dead wrong on this one.  I'm not even sure that subtext and motivation are in the playwright's toolbox at all.

Let me explain...

To me, subtext and motivation would have -- should have -- nothing to do with what the playwright's job is.  The playwright owes a debt to the story and the document -- the manuscript -- and how to best convey that story to the actors and the directors.  Meaning, while there are issues of subtext and motivation at play, and while the playwright should have a say in those elements, that shouldn't be her primary concern -- what should be her primary concern is conveying the play, as intended, to those whose job remains to interpret and perform that play.

I think subtext and motivation are the sole province of those whose responsibility lies with interpreting not generating the work.  They are elements of the process of performance rather than the process of creation.

But what if the director and the actors get it wrong?  What if their interpretation of the play isn't what the playwright intends?

Nice guy? Go home and play with your kids...Well, two things are in play here: 1) a play is a document, and it should be open to interpretation -- it's what breathes life into the work.  If Shakespeare explained that Hamlet's "get thee to a nunnery" attack on Ophelia was a gambit, figuring she was being duped by Polonius and Claudius, and he didn't have a chance to indicate his actions to her, that would fix an interpretation on the scene, one that would lock out the possibility that Hamlet is truly being a bastard.

I'd much rather have the bastard option, even if I think much more kindly on Hamlet in that moment than I think many others do.

2) The above doubts not only sell the work of directors and actors short, but it also sells short the ability of the playwright to convey everything she needs to convey without spelling out subtext, so how does she do this?  With the interplay of sound and silence.

Choosing when to have characters speak, when to have them shut up, when to have them break-off mid-sentence, and when to have them pause before speaking should tell you everything you need to know about subtext and motivation.

Why?

Well, what we do everyday whenever we communicate with anyone is interpret subtext and motivation.  When we speak, however, we try to convey a message, but we're not conscious of our subtext, of our motivation. 

It's an interpretive act, not a creative one -- therefore, leave it to the interpreters of the work to determine subtext and motivation, because the interplay of sound and silence...well, that's enough job for one person.

Monday
Sep272010

God's Burning Finger -- II.1 Monologue

Since I bragged about it in the last post, here's the monologue that I'm proudest of from this script.  I think it works out of context, but in context, this is revelatory for the character in particular, since she's a) largely agnostic, and b) hasn't come right out and admitted to any of these events in particular, even though there's been hints around the edges.

Anyway, enjoy:

II.1. The Audience

(Lights up on CASEY.)

CASEY

I caught lightning in a bottle, only the bottle was me.

The tingle starts in your head, and it only gets worse.  Just before your brain starts to comprehend what’s happened – in the brief fraction of a fraction of a second before your body registers pain as the only possible sensation it can understand right now…it passes through you.

From heaven, down your head, down your neck, down your chest, down your legs…

Like a line drawn from the sky to the earth, this flash of searing electrical pain suddenly connects the firmament above with the firm earth below, using your body as a conduit.

And it all happens so quickly – too quickly for your brain to even recognize what has happened.  And just as you start to pass out from the shock – in the time it takes your brain to register the trauma, to send all other parts of your body the shut-down signal in order to save itself, in order to understand, to cope…in the short space of that split second eternity…

It’s over.

The energy, gone.  Consumed by the hungry earth at your feet, already dissipated and dispersed along the edge of the horizon, all before your body loses control of itself; before you shut down; before you even know what has happened.

There’s a moment there, before you fall.  Your line has been cut – a puppet without strings – but your body hasn’t responded yet, gravity hasn’t grasped you yet.  You’re suspended: a bottle full of air ready to sink below the waterline before you rise again, to barely burst the surface and bob in the breakers.

And it’s in that moment that something happens – and the something that happens can only be explained in a way that your agnostic refusal won’t allow.  In the span of that fraction of a fraction of a second, with your body hovering between your loss of control and gravity’s assumption of it, you realize that this loss is not because of the shock and the pain of it all; and it’s not because of the broken connection between your brain and your body; and it’s not even because of your body’s narrow limitations on processing this raw, unfocused electricity – no, no.

Your body does all of this simply because it was told to – because of what it heard.

Because what it heard was so colossal, so magnificent, so beyond comprehension that a total system shut-down was the only possible solution. 

It’s your body’s way of just plain dealing with it.

And this way of dealing with it is simply because you don’t know what to call it.  This signal, this shock, this voice you heard.

So you call it God.

Monday
Sep272010

First Draft Woes -- God's Burning Finger

Image taken from chicagoredcross.blogspot.comSo I finished the first draft of the Current Play this past weekend. 

I'm...pleased.

From inception to final first draft has been the better part of eight years.  My first inspirational moment was the opening night of Signs back in 2002 (and the last Shyamalan movie I bothered to see in the theater), I finally solidified the premise/backstory sometime in the spring 2008 (while taking my Praxis II test), and finally started the current working draft (after many, many false starts) nearly a year later. 

Which puts the full first draft finished a little over a year after starting it, with lots of tooling around, futzing, but generally not writing, which though it annoys, is something that, I guess, can be forgiven given the full-time teaching gig.

Not sure what finally kicked my butt, other than a little money-where-your-mouth-is-son guilt, what with the whole "I'm teaching you how to write, but not writing myself" thing hanging over me perpetually.

So, yeah, draft's finished.

And it's a curious thing.  The first act -- I got stuck somewhere around five or six pages into Act II -- just sang to me as I wrote it, but Act II was a dog.  A lazy, mangy, bedraggled, unwashable dog.  I had the entire thing, beat-for-beat, planned in my head -- I knew what needed to happen, approximately when, and for how long -- but for whatever reason I felt stuck.  Just not going anywhere.  Had convinced myself that maybe I was writing the characters, rather than letting them write themselves -- or whatever other writer's block-esque bullshit meant I didn't have to write that day -- but at the end of the day, that's just an excuse.

So, Friday (I think it was), I simply sat down after a long day, a disappointing football game at the school, and after cracking open my last, chilly Heineken in the fridge, I plowed through the outline as best I remembered it.  It's an outline that, realistically speaking, I had enough of in my head that I didn't need to refer back to it, even if I know I didn't hit all the bullet-points I had charted anyway.

'Cause in the end, none of it really matters, since I've got something on paper.

Is it something that sucks?  Sure feels that way, three days and not-having-opened-the-file later, but it's still something.  And something is something I can work with.

What I know, at this point, that doesn't work:

  • Dialogue is, for the most part for the last half of Act II, very functional and little else.  Characters are speaking their subtext in the least interesting way possible, all to get the chess pieces moved about the board to where I want 'em to be.  Passes for each character, to make them sound like human beings, should be a good way to solve this problem.
  • Too many subplots?  I introduce, pretty late into Act I, a subplot which motivates much of the tension triangle in the midst of Act II.  What it means, though, is that my central antagonist has about three or four different goals as everything speeds towards the climax which, though they don't contradict, probably just cloud things for the whole story.  Simplify, simplify, simplify is my gut reaction, but then I'm lacking what feels sufficient motivation for an affair, which is essential to making some of the plot work.
  • I like the idea of my climax, but my resolution leaves much to be desired.
  • At first blush, Act II feels short, but after fifty pages of setup, a twenty-page finisher -- with about eighteen of those pages being all on the same night -- also feels fine.  It's a scenario where I'm not sure lingering does any of it much good.  Get in, get out -- while the getting's good, you know?
  • The monologue which opens Act II may be one of the best things I've ever written -- and with that self-assessment, it's hard to live that down and feel like anything else in that act is going to live up to it.  Solution: get over myself.
  • I throw in a character retelling an Indian myth which feels important, but at this draft adds up to not much at all.
  • I need a better motivation for some characters to exit in the middle, only to reappear minutes later.  Sure I devote an entire scene to trying to buy them that motivation, but right now it doesn't work.
  • Maybe it's melodramatic.  In some ways, I feel like it's earned, but it's still melodrama -- a gunpoint epiphany on a hill in the middle of a thunderstorm?  Yeah, it's melodramatic -- but I'm also okay with the bluster, the sturm and drang, the tornadoes and hurricanoes at that point in the play.  Just need to earn it better.
  • More detail on lightning survivor physiology/rehabilitiation?  Maybe.  May be too much, may not be enough room.
  • Finally, some connections made in the climax are definitely unearned/backfill, so finding places to setup those connections earlier in the script is going to be its own focus for a draft.

Phew!  With that in mind, and to produce a less-depressing list, let's go with what's working:

  • In some ways, this feels like my best plotted play thus far.  It's not quite people sitting around remembering what made them messed up, and then having some epiphany to be less messed up from now on.  It's people acting/reacting/and doing stuff to get what they want.  It's a constellation that takes on a new gravitational pull because of the protagonist coming in and shifting the gravitational wells around her.  Or something.  Fart joke here to sound less pretentious.
  • I still think, when I'm on, my dialogue kicks some serious ass.  When I'm on.
  • The more I think about the title, the more I really, really like it.  Just wish I had more of a handle on Moby Dick than my fuzzy summer-before-senior-year, half-reading on it.  That said, Melville could turn a phrase, and I've no problems stealing it.  That's a helluva marquee, you ask me.
  • I like the characters; I like the people in this world; I like what they want; I like what they do to get there.  A lot of the choices -- though right now they're written funkily -- feel right, even if the execution is sub-par.  I just gotta find the way that these people would define the how and the why of what they want.
  • I like how I've managed to bring in elements of backstory and character experience where, in the moment I introduce them, feel tangential to the action of the play.  It's something that, because I knew the trajectory, I knew I could tie the elements together (clumsily though that happened at this draft).  They're the sort of elements I would advise against with my students, merely for the amount of chutzpah it's taking to even surmise they'll work after so many drafts, but right now the sketch is in place, so I can see how everything lines up, awkward though it may be right now.
  • Though I placed it as a possible negative, I kind of like how unbalanced the play feels.  Many of my full lengths had this sort-of pacing reset after intermission -- I come to the end of Act I, I give the audience what I hope is a gut-punch of an Act I cliffhanger, come back at the beginning of Act II and treat it almost like it's own one-act play, with the tension getting reset and then slowly ratcheted up.  This, though, hits that cliffhanger, and you come back from intermission with, after the short breath of a monologue, the tension reset at a fever pitch that simply keeps growing tighter and tighter which is, I think, somehow why I think the melodrama is earned.  It can't get any dissolve without that tension reaching a break which, frankly, needs to have that melodramatic of a break.  I simply can't see another way around it.

I wish my "liked it" list was better, or more thorough, than my "didn't like it" list, but this is also coming from a place of "Phew, it's done, and man do I not want to think about this for another little while."  That said, I may be sitting on something worthwhile (I hope), and it's going to take a bit more focus -- perhaps on a break from school -- to give this play the love and attention it may, in fact, deserve.