My blog last year required me to achieve two outcomes a month: I would firstly read and review a book and secondly I would research and write about an event. Each of these activities would be based upon listings in the Guardian newspapers ‘Literary Year Ahead’. That year long blog was something of an adventure of learning, primarily. I would be reading books I would not ordinarily read and researching events I had previously known little or nothing about. Another driver was my effort to commit to writing regularly – I am a terrible writing procrastinator. As writing plans go it was easy to achieve and a genuinely enjoyable journey of learning.
For this years blog I decided to actively work at developing my writing skills and craft.
Each month I would choose a writing competition with a submission that took me out of my writing comfort zone. For my first submission I chose to submit a play.
I have never written a play before – indeed I have never even considered writing a play. As I wrote about on my blog, I did a little research before putting words down on the page and fortunately I had an idea for a story which seemed to fit the format.
Writing a play is hard. Thinking in dialogue is draining. Every word has to feel ‘just right’ because if it is not, the story telling becomes clunky and awkward. There is no wiggle room for filler, description or explanation in a play script – dialogue must serve a specific purpose and advance the story. Voices must be distinct and consistent to the character. Characters too must be relevant to the completion of the story arc. I had a character in my first draft who I could almost see – I liked her, and liked some of the dialogue I had written for her but I came to realise, she was not needed and the character was culled in the final draft.
As hard as it was I discovered an unanticipated joy in writing dialogue. I think I have an ear for it. I have no idea whether I will ever write a play script again but without doubt, the exercise has fine tuned my approach to dialogue in my fiction writing more broadly.
At a writing retreat a few months ago, a fellow ‘retreater’ said he was writing a TV comedy script. He had written several episodes but had a couple more to write. He intended to submit it with a hope for production. At the time I simply noted this with no real feelings about it one way or the other. Now I think he is a hero! What an awe-inspiring aspiration and what incredible effort. I have a new appreciation for script writers.
Whether the words I put down constitute ‘a play’ remains to be seen and I do not imagine for a moment that it will do well in the competition, but as an exercise it had outcomes far beyond the simple achievement of a script.