A week and a half ago, I submitted plays to 3 contests and opportunities. I had a rough time getting my bearings around the process of cover letters, resume, and writing samples together. I used to have a database of theatres and contests with all their information and deadlines and requirements, and I had a whole system of organization on my computer for documenting each submission and creating all those cover letters. I had templates built and everything. I was out of practice and it took me a while for me to get my bearings.
The hardest part for me was creating a synopsis for my play Books & Bridges. I haven't called it "finished" in my mind, so I haven't had a chance to write the synopsis. Or haven't really thought about it. I struggle with writing synopses, so being out of practice exacerbated my struggle.
The struggle comes from trying to get across not just the plot, but the mood of the piece, while making an argument as to why someone should care about the play enough to produce, watch, or even simply read the play. So, I try several opening sentences, trying to create a good "hook" or whatever. My hook used to be: "[Title of Play] is a [adjective] [genre] about [Character name] who is..." That's a winning formula, right?
A good synopsis would have to make you, yourself, want to see your play. With that in mind, I couldn't find a way to describe Books & Bridges. Was I struggling because I didn't know how to get the mood of the play into words or because I didn't really know what it was about? I thought I knew what it was about; I had even charted the main thrust of the play and the character arc for Julia my main character. Deep down, the play is about how a person defines herself. Life, work, school and life have defined who Julia is, but the play moves towards Julia taking ownership of and defining her "self." But that doesn't work in a synopsis. I tried. I started with "Julia doesn't know who she is anymore." But then I couldn't really define the plot of the play. The main concept/character arc didn't really allow for the plot description. At least not in an economical synopsis.
So, I concentrated on the plot of the play. What happens?
Those all happen before the play begins. That's where the play starts and it's crucial for that information to be out there for the rest of the plot to make sense. What happens after those "given circumstances" is what really tripped me up. Every time I started a new sentence, I questioned whether the plot I was describing in my synopsis was truly reflective of what actually happened in the play. The answer was "yes, but..." Yes, the plot was true, but the motivations and the "whys" weren't clear in the play.Writing the synopsis made me realize that I knew what happened in the play, but the motivations weren't well-defined, especially in the relationship of the two main characters. I think I should have tried to write the synopsis earlier, it would've helped me 2 rewrites ago. I feel like I need to scrap it and start over now that I have this fresh understanding.
For those curious, here's the synopsis for Books & Bridges:
"Julia Douglas has made a huge mistake. Her college writing professor, Chuck, has left her his bookstore as he skipped town to the wilderness of Montana. She enlists Dane, the one friend she still has in town to help pick up the pieces and sort through the mess that Chuck left behind. Adding fuel to the fire, the bookstore is being vandalized every day. Who’s to blame? Could it be supporters and customers of the bookstore down the street? Or could it be Betsy Holmes, the owner herself? Either way, Julia wants out. One way or another, she'll get out."
In preparing my submissions for several contests here in town, I started revisiting my plays I had written for 31 Plays, 31 Days. (I've kept them available on my site to read).
I've revised Palynology, A Town Called Opportunity/A River Called Solitude (now a combo), Lighthouse, Apoplexy, Salvage and some others that are a kind of experiment. A friend of mine suggested I take a look at several plays and see if, perhaps, they could be culled together into a single play. These plays are:
The thing that brings these 5 plays together is having characters who all have semi-undefined and ambiguous relationships with each other. I used Fodder as the main skeleton, folding in each of the other plays and ending up with 3 characters. I found this amalgamating of these plays to be, on one hand, very exciting and, on the other hand, very troubling. In good playwriting, each character should have a distinct voice and vocabulary and speech pattern based on her past, her environment, her culture, her relationships with the other characters... If it was relatively easy to bring these plays together and turn 10 characters into 3, to take different roles and give them to different characters, (in some cases within the same scene, changing sexes, reversing roles), then had I done my job in the first place? Or had I created 10 generic characters with no real pasts or personalities? I did have to change a lot of the language, however, since things started to seem out of character, but the question remains: how distinct were the characters to begin with?
I don't want to be too hard on myself about this since, you know, each play was written over the course a single day, so I forgive these rush jobs. Sometimes you have to go to the quarry to mine some stone before you are able to chisel it into something with true form and specificity. That metaphor makes me feel better.