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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Playwright's Craft - Pig Unit



My new play “Pig Unit” is about my experiences of working on a pig farm some years ago. I hasten to add that while the situation is true, the drama is not.  I’ve got most of the dialogue down and I’m quite pleased with that.  I love the process of writing dialogue and getting it down to a sort of abstracted verisimiltude.  That usually means cuttting and cutting.  Slicing away sentences and whole paragraphs until I’ve pared it down to that almost incoherent series of non sequiturs that contain just enough information for a conversation to carry some sense to the protagonists.  And also remembering that real life people have difficulty conveying meaning, not listening to what others are saying and, sometimes, just lying.

The next stage, which I find more challenging is trying to order the set pieces, that is scenes within the main flow of scenes, that tell the story to the audience.  One of the characters comes out with a long piece of explanation about himself and what motivates him.  But where do I put this revelation?  Too near the end and it well appear like an Agatha Christie denouement.  Too near the beginning and it will have less impact without the audience knowing the other characters thoroughly.  And I want it to plant a few ideas that will play out at the end.  What’s more, I have to ask, which of the other characters will need to know about it?  Will they be present when he spills the beans? Or will the news filter through to them piece by piece?  And how will the other characters react? Will they realise the significance of the revelation there and then or will it be a slow burn with them reaching a slow dawning of understanding? Will the audience find it too obvious or can I disguise it in some way as if our character is appearing to reveal one thing whilst accidentally revealing another?

There are no rules to guide the writer here so the simplest way is to try the passage in different places in the play.  Cut and paste is a wonderful tool.  And with each experiment, if I read it out loud as I always do, I will rootle out what is right and most effective for the piece.

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