Tag Archives: revising plays

“Rewriting isn’t just about dialogue” Cosy developments

Rewriting isn’t just about dialogue; it’s the order of the scenes, how you finish a scene, how you get into a scene.

Tom Stoppard

Writing is all about rewriting, and revising a script prior to it going into production is probably my favourite part of the solo process (writing is solitary; rehearsals are communal and social and collaborative).

‘Cosy’ has had a long gestation period – the initial ideas and research into end of life scenarios and exit strategies began when I was on attachment to the National Theatre Studio in London in 2010. I had completed the first draft when I applied to Unlimited for a commission and production grant.  I was ecstatic when I was successful in the bid, and immediately embarked on the r&d, with an initial reading of the revised script with our cast in June 2015. Informed by that experience, I began revisions on the script and the second part of the research and development process occurred in Cardiff in November, at Wales Millennium Centre, where the production will preview on 8th March 2016.

Sharon Morgan in 'Cosy'. Photograph by Toby Farrow

Sharon Morgan in ‘Cosy’. Photograph by Toby Farrow

It’s wonderful revising a script when you know who the actors will be. Throughout the rewriting process, I’ve been hearing the voice of Ri Richards, or Sara Beer, and the other four fabulous performers as I tackle revisions. It’s a delicate process; I’m not changing the dialogue to fit the actors, rather, my knowledge of the skills of Bethan Rose Young, Llinos Daniel, Sharon Morgan and Ruth lloyd are urging me on, inspiring me to write a more complex symphony as I can ‘hear’ the individual ‘instruments’ in my head.

I have been tracing through individual strands or plot points, ensuring the characters are consistent, balancing the beats, editing the unnecessary, checking the speed and pace (they’re not the same thing) throughout the text. I feel like a composer setting ideas off into motion. I re-read the work in progress continuously, checking the flow, the change in rhythm, the moments of pause and activity, taking the emotional and dramatic temperature of the piece throughout.

Back in the Summer, I invited partners, allies, directors, dramaturgs, and the interested to a reading of the second draft of the play, collating feedback and responses. These comments informed my revisions but didn’t dictate them…. the amount of contradictory feedback I received was quite wonderful and would have been perplexing, were I not a mature playwright, with a strong sense of the piece I am making!

When working in a room with the actors, our process has not been one of devising, but strengthening the existing script.

The r&d in November was small and private, involving the full cast, director Phillip Zarrilli and  Unlimited Impact trainee producer/playwright Tom Wentworth.The company sat around a table with me, working through the script line by line. We identified areas that needed clarifying, or extending, and had open discussions about the themes of ageing and end of life scenerios. I am now finalising what will be the rehearsal draft, the version which will be published in my forthcoming Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors with Oberon.

This gathering also gave Phillip and Llinos a chance to share with us some of the early explorations they’re making for what might be the ‘soundtrack’ of the production. Llinos is a talented singer and musician, known in Wales for playing the harp, but for ‘Cosy’ she and Phillip have been exploring the use of medieval instruments – the crwth and bowed psaltery.

Llinos Daniel with crwth and hammer psaltery. Cosy r&d day

Llinos Daniel with crwth and bowed psaltery. Cosy r&d day

Rehearsals begin in early February, which is putting wind in my rewriting sails. As I write, I’m just finishing off the last details – where god and the devil are reputed to be – knowing the text will change again once we are in the rehearsal room, trying it out on the floor. I can’t wait.

Words emerging from a living mouth: read your work aloud

writing

Some years ago I was asked what I, as a writer, actually did all day. I was in the process of revising a script, so I answered truthfully: I spent the whole day talking to my imaginary friends.

Writing can be noisy work. Performance writers are creating dynamic, pace, tension and flow. All that, plus characters, plot, aesthetic, and the world of the play is created through dialogue. Owing to this, I can’t stress enough the importance of knowing how your words move when spoken aloud – how they feel and emerge from a living mouth – what your work sounds like when uttered in a room.

It is often only in a read-through of a script we become aware of any tongue-twisters or difficult sentences we may have inadvertently created; it is there we note if a line sounds stilted, histrionic, or chimes false. Sudden unexpected little rhyming couplets emerge and accidental puns or double entendres. It is alarming how often what we thought we knew so well can surprise us – even ambush us. Reading the dialogue aloud when you write it is one way of avoiding this.

I find I can identify sections that are ‘flabby’ or need attention simply by half-murmuring the lines when I read the play. I can also find the sentences that jar because there are too many syllables in them, or not enough – and all this impacts on the greater whole.

Plays are written to be spoken. It makes sense that we should check the rhythm and flow by saying those words aloud. It helps us to check whether the dynamic between characters moves in the speed and pace we want at that moment. I often compare writing to composing music – it’s good to check each section follows the patterns and has the energy appropriate to the atmosphere we are trying to create at any point.

I’ve worked with writers who are bewildered as to why a scene which they know should work doesn’t. They’ve honed it, included all the necessary components of plot, rising tension, good characterisation – and yet it still doesn’t have the desired impact or emotional effect. We have then edited a few lines – perhaps changed the length or rhythm of several – and suddenly, to their astonishment, the moment works.

A speedy staccato back-and-forth may undermine and destroy a tender moment, or one with tension and gravitas – but that dynamic leading up to a slower, more evenly spaced section can help heighten the moment by contrast.

Movement of text has an impact on the audience and how it receives the information. Try and ensure you use the appropriate dynamic, flow, vocabulary and interaction. Reading the text aloud will help this.