Friday, July 17, 2009

Hacking at Body Parts

I have been revising a play of mine recently--a kitchen sink drama, in reality, about a young woman who is trying to care for an elderly mother with dementia--and the first act was easy. Honestly, I was captivated by scene two--a scene which has been staged on its own, with a full production, in Kansas. But then Act 2 began, and I realized that what had been brilliant in the first act (okay, so maybe not brilliant, but pretty damned entertaining) had gone terribly wrong in every way imaginable. 

And I mean wrong. It wasn't a few bad lines. Characters did things they would never do. Situations were resolved through unrealistic means. Everything turned into a sit com. It was almost unreadable, and my stomach turned as I read the last few lines of the play and realized the whole act had to go.

I shut my computer and went upstairs to try to eat a bag of chips. After a handful, I realized that eating myself into oblivion was not going to change the fact that the whole second act was utter trash. If I tried to leave the scenes intact, but change what happened, I'd only steer awry again. I had no other choice but to get rid of everything. 

I trudged back to my computer, saved the play as "revised," and deleted all but the first three pages of Act Two--some 40 pages or so of play. Yes, they are still on the first draft, but the only way I will ever resurrect them is if someone steals my play and I have to produce proof that I wrote it years ago and even revised it significantly. Those scenes no longer belong to my play. I have cut them out for good.

Hopefully my description shows how difficult it is to cut out what doesn't work. I would think it might get easier over the years, but it doesn't (yes, I've scrapped huge chunks of work before--I even threw out the first two attempts at novel #3--changing the point of view, and then changing the main character--deleting 68 pages the first time, and over 150 the second). I felt, as I highlighted the offending scenes in this play, as if I were taking a hatchet to my legs, chopping them off right above the thigh bone. Would I be able to stop the bleeding? Would I end up infecting the whole thing--and thus destroying it? Would I ever be able to finish the play now? Would I figure out how to fix it so that it finally works? Would the cancer just grow back?

I don't know the answers. But now I have a much cleaner slate, and I'll know soon enough. Without the past words sitting in front of me, perhaps my cleared state of mind will show me where the characters need to go. I sure hope I figure it out. I hope it was worth the pain.


  1. like the advice you gave me...

    keep your head up and pen down, you can find your way through anything... and in the end it will be worth it. and you can enjoy what you have done, and some day you will be glad you completed it. riches will come your way, if it is only emotional/spiritual riches so be it... but either way you will grow and become better for working your way through it...

    keep it up, you inspire myself to keep going.

  2. I've done some pretty massive revision before and it's very frustrating or, worse when I have written something I'm really pleased with, tickled, love, except it just doesn't work in the novel/story/whatever - then it's tragic.

    I hate that.

    Never tossed something that didn't work, though, when I wasn't glad I did it later.