15 February 2007

"Oh man. Oh dude. Oh no."

I've had a lot of occasions to contemplate the act of writing dialogue of late. Conversations with playwrights, readings, participating in NYU's First Look acting company and their film school, etc. It's kind of coming out of the walls, actually. Yesterday I was emailed two new scripts, one inviting me to participate in a reading (probably can't) and one asking for my feedback (see Nat's 'blog). A few days ago a friend made an unlikely request that I connect him with someone well-versed in screenwriting (Surprise! I know NONE, save my boss's husband [co-wrote a little movie called Monster's Ball] and that's just too weird.). I've done some play writing, to greater and lesser degrees of ill-advised notions (see tha' website for one of my monodramas...for two actors...sh'up!) and whereas when I was younger, short stories were the most natural milieu for me to narrate in, now I find myself inclined toward dialogue. Perhaps that's a result of surrounding myself with theatre. It's hard to say.

What's funny is that at times I get these snippets of dialogue bouncing around my brain that have no recognizable source. I'm a big fan of movie quotes, so my first inclination is to imagine that I'm randomly sampling some moment from some movie I've seen in the past twenty years. More often than not, however, when this Mad-Libs style of quote pops up (and lingers on) it is from nothing but my own noodle. It's a little like I'm quoting my own imagination . . . but I haven't even seen a teaser of what I'm imagining, much less the DVD with commentary. Which can be frustrating.

It's fine when it happens and the line or lines is/are rather poetic, or well-trenched in some context, but sad to say that is not the norm. The norm is akin to what you see in the title of this 'blog entry. Something on the level of stoner/slacker comedies from the nineties. In fact, the above is the quote of my day. I'm not dishing any money out for it, because it hails from my imagination and any money I paid you you'd have to pay right back to me in royalties. At some point not long ago, I realized I had been repeating this "line" over and over in my head today. Not just repeating the words, actually, but imagining myself acting them. Fiddling with the beats, the intonation, wondering about the person saying them and the scenario he's (it is a guy, that much I'm certain of) in. All of this is happening quite below the radar, as I go about my various activities, to the extent that I wasn't even fully aware of it until I started writing about it. And it's taking up some mental power. The rest of the stuff I'm doing is kind of getting the shaft. I mean, it's getting done, but not necessarily well, or quickly.

So: Buttons. I am rehearsing, entirely in my mind over and over again, a single line of dialogue, consisting of six words, which I made up from absolutely no criteria or context, and it's not even
good dialogue per se. (I like it, actually. I'm doing a lot with it, sort of hashing through the changes in perception the guy experiences as he progresses through the line, toying with how to communicate that he's really just at a loss for words, but still trying to find them, etc. ...) What. The hell. Is wrong. With this picture?

I really don't want to write another entry about how lame it is not to be working on a show.

So I won't. What I will write, is that I do verily dig the art of play writing. I can't claim to have insight into it, really, because it is an art and I do not approach it as such. It's a kind of miracle to write a conversation, and, while making it unobtrusive and believable, make it also rich, full of meaning and change. Because you start with nothing, and somehow get this self-contained world of experience and consequence that is vastly, intricately interwoven. Novels can achieve this, of course, but it's not the same. They often weave things like themes, or events. Plays (and to a lesser extent [lesser because it's a more purely visual medium, ergo less word-driven] film) weave together real-time moments, people instead of just "characters," lives in the most encompassing sense of the word. It's amazing. McNally. Kushner. Churchill. Endless others, these people amaze me. Amaze me.

So I hesitate to call myself a playwright, sort like I hesitate to call myself a dancer, or like how I wish more people would hesitate before calling themselves actors. Because yes, I have written four full plays, had some of my work produced, etc., but I have too much respect for the people who really dedicate themselves to that craft to call myself in league with them as yet. It's not a self-deprecating pretense at all; rather a humble nod to fellow artists whom I respect. Shout -out to ma' homies o' the quill! What up, ninjas!

Now: "Oh man. Oh dude. Oh no." Write something incorporating this line. I dare you.


Nat said...

That sounds like a good openening line to be said in darkness, then lights up on a guy standing over a dead body.

No play needed. Curtain. Gimme my awards.

Jeff Wills said...

Nice. "Death in a Second." Your Obie is in the mail.

Patrick said...

I frequently will notice that there's dialogue going on underneath the radar as well, and they're often characters wildly different from me. I sometimes wonder if my little rubber band is going to break, and these will become voices in my head that tell me to burn things. But in the meantime I try to take advantage of any inspiration they give me. It happens occasionally. One of the reasons I carry a notebook all the time.

Nat said...

Where's the "Oh, man, Nat's play was so good that it blew me incontinent!" post?

Jeff Wills said...

Patrick: You make me feel mighty real.

Nat: I'm not through it yet. I'm very carefully planning how to pick apart your ego.

Nat said...

. . . in a good way?

Jeff Wills said...

In the best possible way. With love.