Writing a Play Part 3: Showing it to People

And we return to this series.

Okay. So, you’ve had your idea. You’ve painstakingly assembled your first draft. And if you’re clever, you’ve done a cursory edit or two in order to catch the little mistakes that happen when you start a conversation on one day and then finish it the next, or because you had a couple of drinks to spur the creative process, or because your spell check doesn’t flag it when you write “are” instead of “ate.” Simple stuff like that.

Now we reach the hard part… you have to show it to people.

Here’s my process. I doubt it’s everyone’s because if every creative person followed the same process that would just be freaky weird.

Step One: the trusted few

As I discussed last time, sending the first draft out is a slightly harrowing prospect, because I can never tell how well it turned out. But it takes less than a minute after emailing the script out for me to go from “Oh man, what if it’s awful” to “Why haven’t they told me what you think?” Like a switch flicks in my head from “panic” to “desperate need for feedback.”

Sadly, it turns out the other people in your life aren’t hollow simulations who only come to life when you need things from them. They’re actual people with their own dramas and commitments, so there can be a leeettle bit of a wait at this point, and I have yet to figure out a way around it, since I doubt I’m going to get decent feedback if my readers are reading the script begrudgingly. Also people take a weird amount of offense when you sabotage their lives so they have more time for your stuff.

Still, there’s an inherent eagerness to start talking about the script with people properly. This is something that’s been in my head for weeks, probably months. I want to be able to talk about these characters, what they go through, why I’ve had relatively obscure Beatles songs stuck in my head for two weeks. If it’s a comedy, I want to know what they found funny. Does the story hold up? Do they care? I need to know all of these things.

And from there, it’s back to work.

Step Two: time to fix it up

It would be amazing if everyone I sent a new script to came back and said “This is great, I can’t think of anything wrong with it.” But that never, never happens. Okay twice. Almost twice. But that’s okay. The entire point of the close group the first draft goes to is that they will be honest with you/me about the script. And as good as it might feel to hear people say nice things about something you wrote, the way the script improves is when they tell you what didn’t work and why.

The greatest purpose of a first draft is simply to exist. Defeat the blank page and get the story down in some form. Fixing it from there might not be a breeze, but at least you have a framework in place. Build on your strengths, and eliminate your weaknesses, and I don’t know, you guys, this paragraph is starting to descend into obvious cliches, so I’m-a… I’m-a move on.

Next time… hearing it out loud.

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