Writing Progress

All right, so yesterday I finished a draft of my latest play, NANNA-SIN, inspired by the Ancient Sumerian myths of the god of the moon.

The story goes that two teens are the sole survivors of a village attack decimating their village. They make a pact to travel to the city capital to the temple of Nanna-Sin. One has a connection to the divine and the other seeks revenge. They cross paths with a priest in the House of Nanna-Sin, a lead orchestrator, who sees the potential to use their skill to make a political upheaval. The high priestess of Nanna-Sin is the one with the power, however misuses it to gain control over the people.

Anyway, without giving away the whole of it, which is what the reading on 10-14-17 at the EXIT Theatre is for (mark your calendars! 😉), I'm reflecting on a couple things I did differently this time around that I want to remember and perhaps expand on for next time.

You see, previously, my process of writing mostly involved swirling down the drain of imposter syndrome while simultaneously self-flagellating until the deed was done enough. After a recovery period of varying length, I'd say, "hmm there must be an easier way." But then, I'd return to the same old process and shrug that, "it must just be my process."

Well, how wrong I was about that! Here's some things I did differently this time:

1) Outline

Instead of diving into this good idea I had, I held myself to completing the outline. Well, at least 90-95% of it. The last 5-10% I was okay with coming up with in the process of writing out the script.

This helped SO much because when it came time to write, I didn't have to hold two different things "what happens next" and "what specifically they do or say in each moment" in my brain. I could get to the big story points and color in the details along the way.

The other thing was that if I discovered a new direction that didn't match up with a story point in the outline, it was easier to make a decision about what was the right way to go because I had choices. Not "this is the only thing at can think of"

Way more relaxing. Gotta do that again.

2) Collaboration and Constraints

I spoke with my director truthfully about where I was in the process and told her the story as I saw it.

A screenwriter friend recommended telling more stories as practice in… telling stories. I know, right? Like why did someone have to tell me this? But all I can say is that it wasn't obvious to me that doing this would have any positive impact on my storytelling abilities. Now it seems like a "duh" moment. Oh well, live and let learn.

So two aspects — talking through the story made me realize right away where I needed to work out some story holes and other challenges. For instance, one thing we acknowledged right away was that this story was way bigger than I had time allotted. So constraint #1, tell this epic story in 30 minutes and hit all the points. We talked through some ideas of how this could be possible. The story turns and transitions may be quick. I had it on my radar. Constraint #2, out of respect of my director's timeline and when she wanted to initiate rehearsals, it was going to be best if I finished by a certain date. Deadlines are always a good thing for me at least — though I am not nearly as good with self- imposed deadlines as when a deadline comes from someone else — especially if I'd be letting down another person or group by not fulfilling my end of the duty. Being on deadline gave me the ability to get it out despite it not being perfect. It made me make decisions that I couldn't worry too much about — should I really bring this element in or will people think that's hokey? Nope, gotta move on and get done.

3) Bring Yourself (Play to Your Strengths)

When you get into the nitty gritty of the story — this is where I shine once I'm in the flow. I knew I would be fine and could go for as long as I wanted once I got there. The outline and the deadline helped put a slight bit of pressure and narrowed the focus. Then, worries about what to say or how to transition from one thing to the next? Nah! I'm in the flow!

Flow Time!

And then everything is just calibrated to keep me up. Music helps me with my pace and to keep going. I personally prefer atmospheric dance music that doesn't have a lot of lyrics. Sounds strange, I'm sure, but there's something about moving my body to the beat that every so often helps me get back into it full force.

This story has a lot of ancient elements that I didn't know about — so research helped. Cool things that I learned like how the first author was a high priestess of Nanna-Sin. She wrote poetry and hymns. So interesting because when you read them, I was expecting more sort of exaltations of mystery but really there was a lot about being victorious in battle against their political enemies? Whoa, that could be useful. File that away for later.

And then there was the part where I had to just give myself creative freedom and say, ok I may not get this right the first time and that's ok. Like is it historically accurate? No, but if I invent something based on what I know, it will take less time. And then there were other elements I knew I were going to incorporate like the characters have metaphysical powers so it's like a parallel world where these kinds of powers were not thought possible but are.

Tons of solutions to try to figure out but ultimately I used what I had closest to me as a tool. So, in this story I brought in my influences from yoga, internal martial arts, and Hawaiian healing. Like there are healing chants/songs, a power that one can feel, physical protocols and methods. Is it representational of those things? Oh god no. My teachers or staunch practitioners of these systems would probably frown upon me if I did that. But look, I'm just playing. I can play with stuff and also practice it more traditionally too. No biggie. It made it fun to play in the world of the play.

4) Technique

There were things I did to negotiate between the largeness of the story and the amount of time allotted. For instance, there are some moments where I had to represent a complex idea — like simultaneous time with different space/characters or advancing one character's arch with not a lot of pages. And through the magic of the form, I remembered that I can run both at the same time. I can have two places represented at once on a stage. People have the ability to listen to a story being told by one character and understand another person on stage as a character in that story. There's a point later on that I'm particularly proud of too for its low-budget, high impact way of representing multiple worlds. I use what I know is available in most theater spaces to make the relationship representational in a 3D way.

All sounds conceptual, I know, and whether I was actually successful in clearly articulating what I meant remains to be seen, though at least I tried. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work and we can come up with something else.

It's All Been Done Before
And yet at the end of the day, it's all been done before. Someone else has written thousands maybe millions of stories with these elements. So it's not being created purely from scratch. Not when you think of it like that. Epic fantasy story that needs to be told in 30 minutes? A lot of cartoons do that successfully for multiple seasons!

There's something about the idea that if someone else figured out something remotely similar to what you're working on, it makes you (or me at least) feel like, ok well I can probably figure it out. At least an aspect of it! I mean I'm not trying to be a super amazing great writer all in one go, but, you know, occasionally people laugh at my jokes, think I represented a particular scene or moment in life well, or opened their eyes to a new perspective. Those things are all things that not just my mom and dad have told me.

😊

to bring her back

The old man had a sense of direction that some would call uncanny. It was a gift to know where to go in a moment’s notice. Trouble was, it always came up in the moment. Not days or years ahead. No. It was was precisely in a moment. Sometimes they were questions that took years to figure out.

The question looming in his mind was how to bring the girl back to the village. He’d turned it over in his head for years. It weighed deeply on his conscience from the last time he’d seen her and sent her off deeper into the forest.

He had flashes of dreams where he saw what she saw. A great beast that followed her every move. Rains that threatened to wash the ground she stood on away. He could hear the silent cries echoing into the distance. 

But none of that mattered. Something dawned on him all at once one day. The realization, the answer came on him all at once. It was the reason past plans had failed. They didn’t go far enough. This was so much simpler. The only way it would work however was if he found her first. And she could have been anywhere at that point. 

Still, he had to try. And with that he packed what was left of his things. And he went running into the green.

the twelve paintings

The day after the rain stopped, the girl came upon a kind of cave. It was a makeshift shelter built from the natural deepening of the rock. There were twelve paintings or groupings of markings inside. 

It was evening and the light from the moon was the only way she could see inside. Tracing her finger over each symbol and picture, she wondered…

who made these?

She had never seen anyone in the forest, but here were all these paintings and so far away from any of the towns she knew around. How did it get out here and why put it so far away from everywhere else people would see it? 

Some had very intricate designs and details. It must have taken a long time to do this. She walked from one to the next staring at faces. Birds and plants. An animal she had never seen before – one she didn’t know the name of, but looked very intimidating. She watched the animal for a while and it reminded her of something she could quite figure out.

As she stared at the paiyings she followed the lines from one to the next. Her eyes felt heavy. She heard a low hum a high-pitched buzz and then suddenly, silence and a flash. 
an old woman tending to a fire
part of her face hidden in shadow

outstretched wings of a bird

looking up to touch a feather

then night

the deepness of the air

a drop of water plunks into a pool

and the circles

the ripples form

drop of water, as if suspended in time

motionless

lying in a bed waking from fevered dreams

looking to the arms 

seeing they are drenched in sweat

a yellow flower

old woman laughing

and the animal lunges

teeth

clutching arm

red spots on green grass 

rustling brown crumpled leaves

a lantern

a trail of incense 

and tall trees

thunder

light in back of clouds rolls across the sky



And she blinked. She looked around. The paintings were still there.

dense night

Sometimes, darkness covered the land and sky with a density so thick, you could almost touch it. There was nothing to be agraid of, but when everything was very still. So quiet, not a word, it was hard not to feel as though something lurked and loomed from the outer edges of the deepness. Staring back from out into the night. Not a sound not a word. It was the kind of gradual awareness of a presence that within the darkness, in the depths of the sky across the land, the closeness of the night felt like a blanket covering wrapping up those who lived below. In a way, for a select few, perhaps, it was comforting.

Eventually, eyes adjust to the dark and then shapes of the tall thick trees could be made out. The ground was soft and though covered with bushes, small plants and debris.  The seasons were turning and so the air began to feel cold and enveloping As if it would drift straight through you then into the beyond. Walking at this time of night took great skill and concentration. It took time and patience.

There was a large tree within the forest that provide a welcome respite on the journey. it was a place that felt more protected than the other trees around it. She went to this tree. This is where she sat and listened with wide eyes until she didn’t remember anything from the world in front of her. Scanning the horizon and looking to the brightness of the stars. It wasn’t until a ray of light rested upon her cheek, that she looked around realizing she had fallen asleep. It was as though she had drifted to distant lands and worlds and then was back again in an instant. 

Everything looked so different during the day. Was no longer confined and dense, but open space and trees that went on forever. It was though she was in the middle of no where.

how the dreams work

i believe this is another monologue… maybe it will find its way into a current project or at least be inspiration there of.
The dreams never happen when you want them to. And it’s too bad cuz they’re so good. Smooth dreams. Dreams with epic soundtracks and a sense of flow. A sense of trajectory. A sense of wonder. Dreams that make you think they are real. They can be. At least, they point to things. When you are in them, they unfold at this pace that’s just like… it’s stunning. But outside of them, they don’t make any sense. And people won’t believe. They will think you’re crazy. So, don’t be like me. Don’t tell anyone your dreams…

Sometimes I try to remember the common threads that got me to here. Old man. Red dress. Crow flying. A train.

A train edging into the night feels like heading into oblivion. Feels like heading into the heart of a black hole. Into the unknown with no way out. Into the deepness of something that will consume you. It will. 

Sometimes I want to be taken. The dream brings me in. I don’t want to be out. I see things clearer in there than any kind of picture. It’s only on the outside that it looks warped, convoluted, makes no sense. 

I’m getting better at learning its language. Sometimes I ask. Sometimes I ask for help and the dream answers. Finds a way to keep pointing to me where I need to go. 

People say, “okay, dream of this and it will happen.” But it doesn’t work that way. The dreams know where you need to go. The best you can do is ride them fully. Go with them until you’re at the place you need to be. You see what you need to see. Sometimes what you need to face. And it makes you stronger because you stand there watching. Always watching. Waiting to act. Aborbing. Taking it all in. Every detail. Every moment is stockpiled if it is felt. You gotta be patient. “Wait for it,” is an understatement. But it’s okay by me, because once I’m into something, I can stay on it a very long time. My endurance surpasses most and it keeps developing. Keeps getting stronger. 

And so when you wake up, you only have to move through the moments again. Replay it by walking through your steps.

Did you know the way we experience time is not real? Like it’s real, but it isn’t at the same time. We go from here to there. A to B. Progression. Succession. One thing after anothet, right? But we don’t really do that. Well, we do, but in our minds we remember the past, jump to the future, jump around and back to the present. All at the same time that we’re just here. Just here living life and experiencing its various complexities — such as time for one. We repeat again and again. Always new, never new. Never old because each moment it new. It’s circuitous. Spiraling. It’s not the shape you think it is. 

That’s my secret by the way. That’s why I’m never bored – only tired. And there is a difference. Boredom is not being entertained by whatever you’re experiencing. Being tired or exhaustion is when you still try to be actively engaged but you physically, psychologically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually you are drained. You have less than you’re working with when you’re 100%. And that’s how I see the moment and why I can wait if I need to, because what I see when I am quiet with myself is a whole variety of things others don’t.

I see the future. And I see beauty. 

the sea of flowers that covered the land

One day as she was walking, bright vibrant spots of color captured her attention. Looking around it was as though she was in a sea filled with bits of a broken rainbow. She realized they were hundreds of flower petals of all shapes and sizes. Each with their delicate silky edges drifting past her feet as she kept walking. She knelt down to see them closer, holding one in her hand and studying how smooth its edges were.

where did all the flowers come from?

She tried to see how far they spread across the land, but it was as if she had stepped into another world that somehow changed the rules. Like blankets of flower petals were just as natural as happening upon a tree. And if there was no reason she could find for this strange occurance, then she figured she would enjoy it as much as she could.

i’ll do what i’ve always wanted to do…

And with outstretched hands she fell back into the beautiful petals – all soft, light as air, delicate as they covered her skin. She sank back breathing in their perfumed essence. She closed her eyes and dreamed deeply, falling into a heavier – heavier still – sleep.

i remember tonight

ah yes 

i remember tonight

i remember it well

tonight was the night that a group of stars got together

they sparkled and shined in the night sky

they twirled and danced

they glimmered and smiled

and this beautiful night

it was a beginning that was larger than any would ever know

and it was filled with more love 

and more hope 

than the whole night sky thought possible

ah yes i remember tonight

dream guide

i’m thinking this is a monologue. you can read it as such. or poetry if you prefer. i’m thinking it’s a part of a larger whole. at some point i’ll put in a guide to how i use punctuation in plays. though maybe it’s fairly intuitive. the key thing is to hear it.
this is what she says

she says

this is the beginning of a story

like a sweeping epic film

like a horse

no a cheetah running slow motion

like a wolf about to pounce

like a bear standing in a stream waiting to catch salmon

with its claws

with its claws

eyes locked

eyes set forward

unblinking

in full comprehension of the scene

eyes set

running

forward

quick jolt to the outside

lean

and then closer than ever

closing in

closing in 

and one slight leap

a pounce forward onto prey

onto 

and latching on 

latched on

holding

holding on

this is the beginning of a story she says

she says

i want to imagine yourself as a bird

as a dove

as an eagle

i want you to imagine yourself flying

see yourself in open blue

in open space

floor of green

i want you to see yourself

dream guide

i am the guide

i am the dream guide

this is your journey

i can make you real

do you want to be real?

give me your hand

 

beyond the veil

Imagine that the night sky is a blanket made of deep velvet that you could wrap around you. A bird with dark wings flies by. Qiuetly. Softly. Barely makes a sound. Sound of a whisper. Just a flicker of motion in the dimly lit sky. Reflected back in the still water below.

The girl thinks to herself. The girl imagines. The girl watches this graceful bird trace a line across the sky. She watches the moon high above. The moon that looks like it’s singing, so she sings back. 

Her voice carries across the air. Across a valley. A canyon. A stream. Rivers. Oceans. Into the mountains. She sings a song with no words, only voice. Only notes that rise and fall. A melody that stills the very still forest. A voice that accompanies the flying bird smoothly gliding by. Into the night. Into the beyond.

It’s as if she can see this veil. And she knows where the bird flies to. She sings and beyond the veil, they listen. They know how to answer her. They come up with ways to respond. But it’s an acorn that drops suddenly into the water creating endless ripples. The start of these very many rings is what catches her attention.

She finishes her song. Because really it’s a compliment. It’s but another gentle guide into the night. And she smiles to herself. And those beyond the veil laugh with her recognition. 

bed under starry skies

She had a dream of being in a house. 

She had a dream of being surrounded by loving, welcoming, smiling people.

These were not the same dreams.

She felt safe again. She wasn’t sure if she should, but in the dream, she realized both in the house and at the place with many people, that people were welcoming her. Were taking her in. Were giving her a place. Wanted her to be there. Wanted her to feel comfortable. And happy.

And the tightness in her throat was not from the kind of hurt that normally came up. Rather, it was a release. It was overwelming. Encouraging, but overwhelming as she stood there among all the people who wanted to embrace her and greet her. People who wanted to know how she’d been. People who were familiar because and yet not at the same time.
The same with the house, which had been given to her. There for her as long as she wanted to use it. Always open. The door was never locked from her. And whether it was in between things, just a temporary spot, or some place she wanted to be indefinitely, she didn’t know. Only that she felt comfortable here. The kind of comfort, deep-seated like things were finally settling down.

In the middle of the night, all around her in the forest, insects chirping to one another. A bed of green below wide, ever-expansive starry skies. She stirred, and then was quiet. She slept soundly throughout the night.