Saturday, July 8, 2017

The plot thickens

I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about plot and plot requirements lately.  Partly this is because the folks at Toronto Cold Reads want a quite formally structured plot for ThreeFest this year.  While that in itself is not a huge issue, they also want to limit the characters to 2 or 3 and for the plot climax and resolution to be completely internal to those characters.  That is a taller order of business, though I should be able to come up with something.

I'm not entirely sure I agree with all the strictures, particularly that all important characters need to be introduced early on.  Maybe it is just I am more used to picaresque novels where the main character learns something along the way from each of the secondary characters he or she meets along the way (without the secondary characters taking over).

But this got me thinking about my short plays and then my longer ones, and many of them seem to suffer drawbacks in one way or another.  The Corporate Codes takes a bit too long to get to the point (I already started cutting out scenes) and breaking the codes isn't itself that interesting to a general audience.  I think I started to recognize this by having the main character raise some internal road blocks to the relationship by getting jealous, and that has to be overcome, though it is probably still too easy.  I could make both mothers bigger roadblocks.  Personally I think is quite amusing that one mother is only dealt with on the phone, though actors seem to hate this.  I may be on the right track by making the boss more severe and reworking the second act to be more about can the relationship survive Ethan being laid off due to the screw ups of Li (plus a bit of interference from the mothers).  Probably it is a good idea for Li not to understand or recognize his sacrifice for her at first, but then to flip it and say that he needed to consult with her, not just make decisions for her.  I could get some mileage out of that.  I'm mostly trying to rethink the whole booking a room in Paris thing, as it was a bit over-explained.  It's probably salvageable, but I still need a lot of tightening in the next round of revisions.

I've kind of completely rethought Dharma Donuts with the main character, Parvati, actually wanting to get out of the store and away from her mother, so I really don't know where this is going, but it should succeed in generating a fair bit of conflict and probably resolving itself internally.

I'm a little worried about Straying South, though mostly it is whether the original ending was too open ended.  You don't really have an ending for the lesbian couple, only Jonathan and the immigration officer who has been hounding him all through the play.  Also, there is a limit to just how far I can push things on-stage, and I think I have scaled that back the right amount, but still it is largely a cliff-hanger.  We hear that she is going to take him to Buffalo and thus his stay in Canada has unraveled (due to the lies that started off the play), but we don't have closure for others.  I think that might work for a novel, particularly one setting itself up as potentially the first in a series, but it might be too frustrating for a play.

I'm definitely wondering if the conflict betweeen the school children along the way in Final Exam is really enough.  Maybe this really just should be a short story.  Also, the alien at the end is almost a perfect example of Deus Ex Machina, though in this case he causes problems rather than resolves them.  We don't see enough of what happens after he turns up.  (On the other hand, the aliens are discussed incessantly, so it isn't completely out of the blue.  This is just the manifestation of the man against the universe conflict.)  Do the characters stay firm to their resolutions or do they lose their principles?  Maybe it doesn't matter for a Fringe show if things end on such an open note.  Anyway, I'll have to deal with this some way or another.

Finally, The Study Group seems to have relatively low stakes throughout, though there are certainly tensions and attempted betrayals.  It just isn't particularly amplified, and I have to decide if the characters really are interesting enough to stick around to see them showing off their knowledge to each other.  And while I think the reference to time travel (at the Back to the Future level) might be amusing, it's hard to say if tonally it works with everything else.  I mean I like the idea that they aren't able to humiliate the odd boy out, but did they really think this would work in the first place?  That's my biggest issue.  Well, I'll just have to sort it out after all these other plays I am working on.

Maybe I can't completely work these issues out, and they may or may not be fatal flaws for a specific play, but the more I work on them upfront (keeping in mind the strictures about plot), the better the final product.

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