Anyway, Debbie was wondering about the three events in the character's life that gives shape to who they are at the beginning of the play. She wondered if they were set in stone or pencilled in as guidelines. My answer to both is yes and no.
Now this is where things are gonna get a little wacky, so you might want to strap in for this. Or don't, it's your funeral.
When a character first comes to me and starts to tell me about her life and what has shaped her, I write it down. And I have some preconcieved notions of what I want her to be. This isn't always who she is, and if I try to force that too hard, she will stop doing anything and cross her arms and blow raspberries at me. Sometimes, as was in the case of December in 'Hauntings', she wouldn't talk at all. I had to poke and prod at her for days before I finally got the story out of her. I mean, she was embarassed as to what she had done, so I didn't blame her, and she was paranoid that people thought she was a bad person, so it's no wonder that she took forever for finally open up. But still.
So basically, my preconcieved notions of my characters have to meet somewhere with the character's reality. Sometimes it matches mostly with what I've come up with on my own. Sometimes it meets halfway. Sometimes, I'm completely wrong. But it differs with every character.
In all honesty, there really isn't that much about my plays that ends up set in stone. As was in 'The Rope Swings', the original ten minute play that spawned 'Hauntings', I knew my set would be a set of weight bearing rope swings. That wasn't going to change. The first set of characters I put on the stage didn't work. They just kind of meandered about and the dialogue was crap and then I realized these characters were not the characters for this play. So then I was stuck with a day left to write the play before the submission deadline and I was definitely toast. And then Margo and December came along. Margo timidly sat on her swing while December baited her and baited her until Margo finally explodes and there you have it. The play was written in an evening. Sometimes you just don't have the right characters for what is set in stone, but I am slowly realizing, you don't set much in stone.
Even with that said, I have the Frank Lloyd Wright house set in stone, or rather, on top of it. The top is being put back on the mountain as Mr. Wright himself said of this triptych that he designed that never saw the light of day. But it will in my play.
And these are the right characters. Sometimes it just takes longer to get them to show their spots as it were.
On the back of 'The Dramatic Writer's Companion', the blurb on the back begins:
Moss Hart once said that you never really learn how to write a play, you only learn how to write this play.
The more I write, the more I realize it's true. It doesn't matter how many plays I've written, how many characters have come to me with their stories, none of it really matters to the play at hand. It will be coming from freshly tilled ground, with freshly spread fertilizer and freshly sprayed water. No two summers of snapdragons will hav the same ground, fertilizer and water. It will all be new every time. And you might not grown them this year, as big or bold as the year before. But you will find your own way to the big bold snapdragons. They will just be new. Completely new.