[Article by CJ Casey]
Some of you may know that I’m currently revising the first book of a trilogy and charging into the rough draft of the second book. While I was going through my notes, I came across this informal play script that I came up with when I was brainstorming the concepts and plot of this trilogy, and it’s a technique that I think I’ll be using with every new project. I’m one of those writers who likes the occasional peek into another writer’s work routine, and plus, I didn’t feel like doing a lot of rewriting work today, so I am presenting this to you for your perusal. Except for the character listing (my draft has them listed as ‘A,’ ‘B,’ etc.) and a few minor edits here and there, this is how I wrote it down, back in November 2016, when I decided to get the various character ideas and personifications that hang out in my head to sit in the same room for a change and workshop my new story. Folks, this is what the inside of my head looks like when I’m composing and roughing out an idea. I apologize in advance if you’re not quite ready to see that.
THE WRITER. He writes. He assumes that he’s the leader of the group, and they all assume that he knows that they don’t.
THE LEAD. He is usually assigned the job of the Protagonist in the company’s stories. He sometimes rearranges the story so it focusses on what he did and how he did it.
THE SIDE CHARACTER. The comedian of the group. He sometimes wishes he or she could be the lead, and sometimes is glad that he or she doesn’t have to deal with the pressure.
THE LOVE INTEREST. Likes a happy ending. Was added to the company when The Cynic accidentally doubted himself out of existence.
THE FAMILY MEMBER. Usually one of the secondary characters that has a lot to do with getting the story in motion. He or she is either a hero or a villain, and equally likes playing both.
THE MUSE. A dreamer. She comes up with the ideas, sometimes faster than anyone else can jot them down. She has the attention span of a distracted gnat, but she also knows that she’s one of the most important members of the company. The rest, of course, know that her ideas would go nowhere without craft and sweat and a lot of work, but they’re afraid of depressing her and keep that information tucked far away.
SCENE: A quiet room in the upper stories of the Shiawassee Street School Building, a cavernous square vault of a school a hundred years old or more. Never mind that none of the people present have attended this school since the summer of 1984; it is still embedded in everyone’s mind. It is late summer. Six people are sitting in a loose circle on an old wooden stage and trying not to get distracted by the sight of the maples and willows visible through the tall windows. Everyone is relaxed but anxious. They have to have a play ready to workshop in two weeks, and their patron would be happier if they could have it ready before that, as he very naively promised his friends he would have a final draft by the end of the month. No one in the room wants to be there, but the idea of going back to a real job is even more horrifying.
THE WRITER: Alright, everyone, we need to get this started. Because you goofed around all day…
THE LEAD: You did too, you know. We’re not getting paid to play video games, or write comments on the Internet, or read articles about video games on the Internet.
THE WRITER: … right. So, since WE goofed around all day, we only have six days to get this story roughed out.
THE SIDE CHARACTER: I remember telling you a month ago that we needed to get going on it. You insisted on working on your stupid ghost story romance that went nowhere.
THE WRITER: It wasn’t stupid! It just didn’t work out very well.
THE MUSE: I think you were really onto something, there, Writer. In fact, I have some more notes about it for you to look at. Maybe you should look at these and try again, okay?
THE LEAD: No! Focus, remember?
THE WRITER: Okay, okay. So, the Boss asked us for a fantasy story. He doesn’t want anything too metaphorical or weird, either. Some of you need to remember that.
THE MUSE: Did the Boss give you any notes?
THE WRITER: Just the usual ones. (Digs in his pockets and pulls out a crumpled handful of receipts and torn index cards.) Reading around the salsa stains and this spot where he wrote down yet another book he wants to add to that towering pile in the corner, I was able to come up with these three points.
- A Dragon. It doesn’t actually have to be a fire-breathing or poison-spewing lizard, but it needs to be some sort of dramatic horrible monster.
- A Hero and a Heroine. I want to have both. And they will have complimentary skills and abilities. And, no romantic connection between those two, at least.
- The Dragon is mostly incomprehensible to the villagers, but that didn’t stop people from proclaiming themselves to be its mouthpiece.
So, any thoughts?
THE MUSE: I like it.
THE SIDE CHARACTER: Of course you like it. You’re the one who came up with the ideas, aren’t you?
THE MUSE: Well, maybe. But that’s not why I like it. You have to admit that they’re great ideas.
THE SIDE CHARACTER: I don’t have to admit anything. But I will say that they’re not as bad as some of the ideas he’s come up with. I mean, that nonsense about the kidnapped boy and the lady who turned into a bird? What in the holy flaming fudgesicles was that about?
THE FAMILY MEMBER: I seem to remember that you really liked the part you played in that. You still repeat lines from it.
THE SIDE CHARACTER: Well… it wasn’t all bad, of course. Nothing we put together with the Boss is. There’s always a good part buried in there, somewhere.
THE WRITER: What does everyone think? Can we work with what the Boss gave us, or should we send the notes back?
ALL: (Resigned mutters.) Sure. Whatever. Don’t got anything else better to do.
THE WRITER: Right-o. Now, let’s look at the first note he gave us. What’s our Dragon going to be like?
THE LEAD: The Boss’s idea that it should be vast and incomprehensible is a good one, I think. We should make it shadowy and vast. Sometimes, its attacks are invisible, and very difficult to defend against.
THE LOVE INTEREST: But you still can defend against them, right?
THE LEAD: Of course. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have a story.
THE LOVE INTEREST: How?
THE LEAD: Well… umm… a magic… tool?
ALL: (Chuckles. A random twelve-year-old boy in the corner is giggling his ass off.)
THE SIDE CHARACTER: Maybe, but it can’t be the usual Deus ex Machina. Perhaps one of the Collaborators the Boss mentioned in Note #3 gives the bearer of the, whatever it is, the ability to at least perceive the creature, maybe even defend against it.
THE LOVE INTEREST: I like that. The ‘MAGIC ITEM’ isn’t so much a weapon of offense as it is of defense. That’s different, but understandable and relatable.
THE LEAD: That can be my quest…
THE LOVE INTEREST: Our quest. Remember Point #2?
THE LEAD: Sure. Our quest. We work well together, anyway, no matter what characters the Writer gives to us.
THE FAMILY MEMBER: Just be sure you remember the other part of Point #2.
THE LEAD: That’s not what I meant. People always say they like our dialogue and our stage chemistry. Maybe is can be the Love Interest’s idea to steal the… the whatever-it-is.
THE FAMILY MEMBER: Until we know what the tool is, can we call it a ‘Sampo?’ And along with this Sampo, perhaps the Dragon will have avatars that aren’t so much created by it as they are created by the person who is trying to comprehend it.
THE MUSE: I really, really like that idea.
THE WRITER: Alright, so we have an incomprehensible Dragon, a ‘Sampo’ that allows whomever is holding it to actually see the Dragon and defend against it, and Avatars of the Dragon that are from the person’s mind, more than anything else. Yes, Side Character, I see your objections, but we can look at those later. We also mentioned Collaborators, those people who interpret the Dragon’s words and are probably worse than the Dragon itself. How does that sound?
THE SIDE CHARACTER: Well, it’s better than some we’ve had. But I really think we should look at a couple objections I have, first.
THE MUSE: Save those for the editing room.
THE EDITOR: (Grumbling from the next room.) Did someone call for me? Hey, are you working on a new story?
ALL: Nope! Go back to sleep, Ed.
THE WRITER: Alright, so now we need either a plot or a situation. Take thirty minutes and see what you can come up with.