Dream Dreams, See Visions
Intense spiritual pleasure accompanies the creation of plays and novels. The goal is entertainment; pleasure in the audience, satisfaction in the reader, are your rewards.
"Imagination," says Rollo May in The Courage to Create, "is the outreaching of the mind. It is the individual's capacity to accept the bombardment of the conscious mind with ideas, impulses, images and every sort of psychic phenomena ... It is the capacity to 'dream dreams and see visions,' to consider diverse possibilities, and to endure the tension involved in holding these possibilities before one's attention. Imagination is casting off mooring ropes, taking one's chances that there'll be new mooring posts in the vastness ahead."
One is an artist or one is not. Inspiration, intuition and artistic intelligence can't be taught. An artist's nautral sensibilities can be honed and heightened by exposure to great art, exposure to the hearts and minds of others, and by informed, self reflective criticism of one's own work.
How I Became a Writer
(A cautionary tale!)
I woke one October early morning in the mid-nineteen eighties, around 3:30 a.m., and was propelled to my ancient Kaypro computer by an unfamiliar urge. I'd been directing film, tv and theatre and found myself wanting.
I was soon lost in a frightening, intriguing, ascending world. Time dispensed with itself; it had lost all meaning. Eventually, I noticed I was cold. And hungry. I glanced at my watch. It was 1 p.m.
I'd neglected to eat. I was still in my bathrobe. I'd forgotten to turn up the heat. Chilled to the bone, I rose to make lunch, and fell in a heap on the floor. I hadn't moved in my chair for over seven hours. My legs were too stiff, from the cold, to support me. I didn't care. I had written seven pages of startling dialogue.
I had dreamed dreams. I had seen visions.
I lay there thinking . . . "God help me! I've become a writer!"Warm Wind in China, and a new career, were born.
DAWN RAE DOWNTONIn Warm Wind In China, "Stetson's mind casts itself delightfully back, and up, to a place which the theatre does not much believe in any more: his sweet prince is sung to rest as if by angels."
The Canadian Theatre Review (CRT57)
Rob MacLean and Eugene Sauve in the Charlottetown production of Warm Wind In China,directed by the playwright.
Read the Play
In quick succession, two more full length plays emerged: Queen of the Cadillac, and Sweet Magdalena. Read early drafts of both at the PWM Library
Since that day in 1986, twelve full-length plays have emerged, reached completion, have been produced or are on a production path. I've published prose fiction. Essays. Delivered speeches on a variety of topics.
I've been a dedicated, full time playwright/novelist/essayist for thirty years, thanks be to the Great Spirit(s) who - in Her/His/Their wisdom - seems to have helped indeed!
The great joy of writing is elevation and clarification, which occur when the full structure, the first draft, is in place. The task is not to ascend a peak then descend the other side but ratehr to attain the summit, gather new strength, fix one's eyes on the far horizon and leap!
E. M. FORSTER tells us the function of all art, particularly writing, is simply expressed with these two words: only connect.Playwrights and novelists uncover the stories contemporary audiences live in their daily lives.
We craft, polish then hold a 3d mirror to reflect contemporary life; we connect physically, spiritually, intellectually and, most importantly, emotionally with live audiences in the living theatre, on television, in the cinema or in the mysterious, beguiling pages of a book.
This might be the playwright/screenwriter/novelist's job description: connect the major characters in your work to each other and to every member of your audience. Connect the images, symbols and urges of the collective unconscious to the living, spoken word. Connect the word to the action on the stage, and the image on the screen, the mind of the book. Connect the central theme of your work of dramatic fiction to its dramatic action; in the process, create theatrical/cinematic/porse metaphor.
Discipline breeds ritual behavior, creates shelter, sustains full engagement with art and imagination.
Deadlines, schedules, contracts, and personal expectations help. But finally, regular work habits spread over long periods of time underpin the creation of short stories, novels and plays.
Common wisdom holds that it takes two years to write a play — a draft emerges over the period of several weeks or months or years, is put aside for a time, re-drafted after informed criticism, public or private readings, etc. In general, six or seven drafts and more, render a play audience worthy.Fiction is a not a different beast entirely, but a variation of species, particularly if the writer is, by nature, inspired by drama. There are many ways to approach both drama and fiction... imagist, thematic, impressionist, all employing shifting perspective, telesopic time, and drama's interior monologue's prose-fiction-cousin, the free indirect style.
For prose writers with a theatrical bent (and there are more and more of us emerging... we're already experts at dialogue and narrative) much can be learned from the dramatist's craft - study both crafts to improve your mastery of each.
It's important to find the time of day or night when one's imagination, intellect and stamina are most acutely aligned. I work daily from 7 a.m. until 1 p.m. when working a play, 10:00 am to 2:00 pm when composing fiction. I can't acount for the difference in schedules. So I just accept it and live my life accordingly.
Make your work-time interruption free — sacred. Write every day. If you're not creating a new play, story or novel, use this time to work at improving craft. Or read. The finest work arises from writers who are well and broadly read.
Success follows when the rigorous application of craft supports inspiration. 'Though I write full time, I also continue to direct for some prime theatres and artists and, in the last fifteen years, have honed natural dramaturgical skills. It all burns with the same flame and, paradoxically, feeds the same fire.
Physical, Spiritual, Emotional and Intelectual
Over time, I've learned to discover the body, mind, heart and soul of a work.
When I consider character development, I remember psychologist Abraham Maslow's contention that personality is beneficially analyzed from physical, spiritual, emotional and intellectual perspectives. To these, I add social: i.e., where does your work sit in social terms? From what social conditions does it arise?
Apply these principles to the series of timed exercises I've developed. You'll find flat characters rounding up to new levels of power and complexity.
New Play/New Prose-Fiction Development
Early steps . . .
I take great pleasure the intellectual discipline, personal care and intimacy of the development process. I favor dramatic narrative which fosters a clear understanding of the who, what, where, and when of story, the how and why of plot.
I use exercises which help lay bare the mysteries of the character generated story and the plot. I help both emerging and established writers discover the central image of their work, and from there explore with them symbolic meaning leading to the over arcing metaphor... the soul of narrative.
Dramatic action employed in theatre and the novel remains the greatest of mysteries. We know it arises from many possible sources: hubris, blocked will, determination, and forward motion. We know that every action has an effect on character and plot, then promptly results in a new action.
Dominoes, say some. Cyclones, say I.
Drama arises from conflict. Conflict arises from desire. I paraphrase the great American critic Eric Bentley when tells us a writer ". . . is a perverse traffic cop: instead of preventing accidents, he beckons cars into collision."
I help identify and refine the central conflict of new work and work in progress for those who've lost their way more often than not, as it turns out, by faulty plotting.
I encountered rather simplistic character perspective exercises when I was briefly enrolled at Columbia University's masters program in screen writing, exercises I expanded and refined to assist writers of drama and prose-fiction when I worked occasionally as a sessional lecturer at McGill and Concordia universities, and at the National Theatre School of Canada here in Montreal during the 1990s. These exercise help me discover characters and the story I need them to tell. The 3rd, 2nd and 1st person exercises introduce an audience to your play or novel's people in much the same way they emerged from you in the initial creative process, i.e., fresh, energetic and alive.
The character perspective exercises remain at the core of my work as a writer. I'm delighted to pass the exercises along in half-day or weekend workshops, or the longer on-line, live, interactive sixteen hour/eight week courses MasterPlayWorks currently has on offer.
They work a charm, these exercises, and never fail to ignite or re-ignite a creative flame. The stories and plots that emerge are deeply rooted in the writer's psyche. The work is rich in dramatic, fictive metaphor, the Holy Grail of all writing.