I’ve been hard at work on three projects recently.
1. Weird Sisters: The Legend of Tatterhood
2. eBook version of Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras! It’s coming soon!
3. The Throne of Oz
I haven’t allowed myself to work on anything else until Weird Sisters had a finished first draft. Now that I have a first draft, I’ve been shifting to the other projects before diving into Weird Sisters rewrites.
The process of writing Weird Sisters has been strange and constantly evolving. It’s the first play I’ve worked on since beginning my new 8-4:30 day job. I’ve been very much concerned with workflows, processes, and tools for getting the job done now that I have a new job. I had figured out how to write a play with a shifting schedule at a retail job, but I’ve had to adapt to a new schedule. I needed to find the “best practices” for writing a play with my new life circumstances. My best practices have been forced to evolve every couple of years based on ever-changing life circumstances.
I don’t have the luxury of 20 hours a week to set aside expressly for playwriting. I don’t have the luxury of 10 hours a week for playwriting. With the day job, an almost five year old son, a wife, and a weekly podcast, I have to be methodical and structured with my time and process in ways I haven’t before.
As an example, here is how I finished Weird Sisters.
Phase 1: Research
During the first phase of creating the play, I read and re-read many versions of the Norwegian fairy tale of Tatterhood. How did the story change with each incarnation? What were the options I could pull from? In some stories, Tatterhood’s castle is visited by witches, other times it’s trolls or hobgoblins. After looking up the Norse word for witch, völva, which means “wand carrier,” I reached the first turning point for the play. In the fairy tale, Tatterhood is born with a wooden spoon in her hand. Why? Why is that important? That spoon is a wand. She’s a witch. This is something that wasn’t explored in any versions of the story I read. I spent a long conversation over coffee with a good friend of mine, discussing witch culture and traditions. I was trying to find my way deeper into the story. What does it mean that she’s a witch? How do her relationships with her mother and sister shift and change because of this? Is it a good thing or a bad thing to be a witch?
Phase 2: Outlining
I’m putting phase two after phase one because it makes sense on a list, but I was outlining long before my research phase was finished. They really overlap. I used my computer to outline, which was new for me. I used an app called Highland 2. You can see it in action while I was working on Tatterhood outlines in the video about me for Columbus Makes Art here.
I would make a heading for a scene title, then would write either a synopsis of what happened during the scene or, more frequently, questions about characters and what happened.
Here’s a short example:
.Queen tries to keep twins apart
Towards the end of my outlining phase, I even enlisted my dry erase board to see the story on a grander level. Some people do notecards; I like dry erase. I wish my dry erase board was bigger. Also, I had a little help with my board, so I’m glad that I took a picture when I was done working for the night. My son was so proud of his train drawing...
Phase 3: First Draft
My new outlining phase gave birth to a new way of writing. I tried to solve as many story issues and questions in the outline rather than in a first draft. Usually, I’d write whatever scene came to mind and then put it all together in a kind of collage. With Weird Sisters, I wrote only questions. I tried to work out every story beat, every important moment before pen hit paper.
Once I felt secure in knowing what happened in every scene, I used writing sprints to get the job done. This was different for me. I set a timer from 45 to 60 minutes (45 turned out to be better) for an uninterrupted block of writing.
It was really effective. Because I had internalized so much of the story and worked it out in outline form, the play poured out in less than 10 writing sprints. In about two weeks, I had a first draft. It was remarkable.
I always write my first drafts by hand on paper, so that when I transcribe, it allows for another draft. So, what I call my first draft is really draft 1.5.
Phase 4: Rewrites
Since Weird Sisters is going to be produced this fall at Columbus School for Girls, I asked the director if I could have an informal reading to hear the play out loud. I found a couple of holes in the story, mostly places where I was afraid of being too obvious and erred on the side of not giving enough information. A couple of things caused confusion and several story points didn’t pay off because they weren’t completely set up at the start. I’m looking forward to rewrites.
I’m also looking forward to the next play. The Throne of Oz has been kicked into the research/outline phases already. I’ve been creating sketches of the characters just for fun. You can see them on Instagram. It’s not something I did for Weird Sisters, but I felt compelled to have my own vision of Oz.
How have your processes evolved? What do you think of this? Have you done any write sprints?
Keep creating and, as always, be excellent to each other.
How big is YOUR imagination? Penny from Cowgirls Don't Ride Zebras knows how to stretch her imagination to have tons of fun! And now that it's summer and school is out, what are ways you can stretch and strengthen your child's (and your own) imagination, and have a BLAST?
1. Read Books
Yes, it’s summer, but books, like bowties and fezzes, are very cool. Try one you didn’t know existed. Did you know there are 14 books about the Land of Oz? Or, grab one that’s been on your shelf for years, but you just haven’t gotten to it!
2. Story Cards
My son, Jack, loves these Create a Story Cards. Come up with your own story based only on the pictures of the cards. Shuffle the cards and the story completely changes! Take turns adding to the story, or let one person take center stage.
3. Trips to the Zoo
The zoo! The characters of Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras travelled there for inspiration, why don’t you? Ask an employee questions and actually read all those things posted about the animals.
4. Listen to Instrumental Music
Bust out the headphones and listen to some Mozart, Beethoven, Philip Glass, Danny Elfman, Ludovico Einaudi, Hans Zimmer, or your favorite film score. Make sure it’s instrumental. What do you hear? What patterns? What themes? How does it make you feel?
5. Fan Fiction
Yes, I am advocating for writing fan fiction! Did you just see a big, summer blockbuster? Why not test your skills and write the sequel? What happens next? Who do the characters meet?
6. Dress Up
Penny's friend Cassandra made a cowgirl hat out of newspaper. Dig out some old clothes and put together a fun, silly outfit! Find a paper bag and some construction paper and become your favorite animal!
7. Make Some Art
Paint, draw, just create some art! Sidewalk chalk? Yes, please! Do you have a whole bunch of magazines or newspapers to get rid of? It’s collage time! Cut them up and make something interesting!
8. Photo Walks
Take a walk, pull out your phone or your camera, and shoot some pictures. Take some close ups, take shots of walls and patterns you see, take some action shots, and see your neighborhood or city from a new perspective.
Move to the music! Dance like no one is watching! Can you move slow? Can you move fast? Can you dance with just your arms? Just your hands? Can you dance like an animal? How does a polar bear dance? Are there dance classes in your area?
10. See a Play
Live theatre hits you on so many different levels. There’s nothing like it. Check out a theatre for families and young audiences in your area. See what your local theatres are doing and go!