One of the projects I’ve been working on for a while but never really talk much about here is TheLibrary (project nickname, obviously). It started out as a short story then I realized it would be much longer than originally planned and started to write it as a novel before realizing it wasn’t quite long enough to be a full novel, more like a novella. Then Script Frenzy was coming up and I didn’t have an idea for a play that year so, on a whim, I decided to rewrite the whole story as a play and, wouldn’t you know it, it seems to work much better that way.
So it’s currently still a two act play. I’m on what I think is the fourth draft (that’s fourth draft in play form alone, I have no idea how many drafts that is overall) and it still isn’t quite working. I work-shopped it quite a bit during the playwriting class I took two summer ago and there are parts of it that seem solid but, as a whole, there’s still a long way to go.At it’s heart, its about the conflict between (what appears to be) two very different people and variations on what it means to be new vs old, innovative vs old fashioned. Much of the plot concerns this battle between a bibliophile who loves the physicality of books and the rise of the eBook. I won’t try to explain it more than that, mostly because the plot keeps changing with each draft, but that battle is a symbol for a host of things the main point of which is that, like the electronic and paper versions of our favorite book, we can seem completely different on the surface and really be the same inside. Metaphor!
Or something. Like I said, it’s still kind of a mess.
Because this story started as prose, there are sections I struggle with staging because I still see them in their original form in the novel. Overall, I do believe this story is better served by the stage over page but there’s still the echo of the previous version mucking with my head. It seems like the strongest scenes from the novel are the weakest ones in the play and vice versa.
The story also keeps lending itself to the two main characters getting together which I’m not sure if I want. Partly because I think that their getting together dilutes the message I’m trying to get across and partly because I’m having enough trouble writing the idea as it appears in my head without adding in a random romance. But the one thing every beta reader has had in common is that they like the tension/opposites attract thing the leads have going on and want them to get together. The instructor even told me that the whole thing is very Pride and Prejudice with this modern Gothic romance flair and, dang, if I’m going to get compared to Jane Austen maybe I shouldn’t fight the romance thing. After all, if it’s what the audience wants and what the characters seem to want, who am I to fight it? At least, I think that’s the logic I should be using.
The feedback from the instructor and my classmates on this piece was actually extremely favorable but I’m second guessing it. Why? Well, because I only shared a few scenes with my classmates (there was a page count limit so I couldn’t share the whole play or even act) and, while I may doubt myself in many elements of writing, I am confident that one thing I can do is write a good standalone scene. The scenes I gave them may well be great but do they work as part of the whole?
A good scene in a bad play is still nothing. That’s really the rub, isn’t it?
The other thing I’m struggling with is playing both sides of the central argument (eBook vs paper book) without letting one side be clearly right. Some readers have told me that the male MC is clearly “right” and the female MC’s arguments are “stupid” which is a problem I need to fix. I also wonder what they would say if I flipped their genders which is an experiment I may need to try sometime. But maybe it’s better to let the audience identify with one party from the start and then flip it around on them later? I’m not sure.
The one thing I do feel confident in is that the play has this lovely mirror symbolism to it down to where (completely unintentionally at first, though of course now I’m playing it up on purpose) the staging in the acts is a mirror image of each other. The setting for scene one is same room but in the opposite state in the finale scene while that’s also true of the second and second to last scene, etc. The fact that something like that just happened without my planning it really makes me feel like I’m on to something though I’ll be darned if I know what.
I find this stage of (I don’t even know what to call it at this point. Editing? Rewriting? Tinkering? Just writing?) the most frustrating. Where sections of something are polished enough to call them “done” but the project as a whole needs so much work I’m still scrapping whole sections and starting over. It’s hard to tell what needs to be cut to make the whole better and what is good enough that I shouldn’t only keep it, I should be building off of it.
When I get to this stage, I feel like I spend more time thinking about the project than I actually do at the computer working on it. It means that every time I do sit down to work on it, I’ve got a whole bunch of new things to try, but sometimes I wonder if I might be done already if I just forced myself to sit at the computer and bang at it for a while.
The other reason it’s taking me so long to finish this play? I have so many works in progress, many of which are so much closer to being finished or published or what-have-you, that using what little writing time I have to tinker with this play I may never get right or be able to do anything with seems like a waste of time. Although, I’ve been thinking about it non-stop this week, enough that I needed to talk it out in this blog post so maybe that’s a sign that it’s worth my time after all.
What do you think? What do you do when a project just isn’t quite working yet? Do you let it sit or bang on it until it gets into the right shape?