Monday, July 13, 2009

A Short+Sweet Writer's Journey

by Nandang Abdul Rahman
It started off as a challenge.

A challenge to try something that I’ve never done before.

After numerous times sitting watching other people’s words being acted on stage in KLPac and wondering if I could do any better.

I decided to write a 10 minute play for submission to this year’s edition of the Short+Sweet Theater festival.

But where and more importantly how to start?

First of all, I had to overcome the nagging fear that I have nothing really substantial to say and that I have neither the skill nor talent to write a stage play. It looked like a big bump in the road for me until I realized that I would never know if I could do it unless I give it a try.

“The worst that could happen was that it turned out to be a pile of crap that people would rather burn than read”, I rationalize.

I wonder if all other writers had to go through the same things when they first started their piece. I even went as far as enrolling myself in the Short+Sweet Playwriting Workshop last Apr to learn how to start my piece. I ended up skipping it on the very morning it was suppose to start due to an attack of nerves and fear of having my work publically dissected as part of the workshop activities. I would later find out that my fears were unfounded and I had missed fairly enlightening session learning about the structure and conventions of writing a 10 minute play that would have greatly helped my own writing journey.

Once I realized the missed opportunity due to my own insecurities, I decided to ignore the doubting voices in my head and listen instead to the voices that had a story to tell. Thanks to the information that I found online, I figured out a story structure that was simple enough for me to understand and feel less intimidated to work with.

Pages 1 to 2: Set up the world of your main character.
Pages 2 to 3: Something happens to throw your character’s world out of balance.
Pages 4 to 7: Your character struggles to restore order to his world.
Page 8: Just when your character is about to restore order, something happens to complicate matters.
Pages 9 to 10: Your character either succeeds or fails in his attempt to restore order.
Thanks to the page breakdowns and the tips I found on the “HOW TO WRITE A 10-MINUTE PLAY” link on the same site, I was finally on my way to actually writing my first 10 minute play. My first attempt started out strong but became longer and longer as I started to write it. Trying to fit the story that I had in my head into the confines of the page constraints was as easy as trying to herd cats around. It forced me to stop and look at what I was doing wrong and I figured out that the problem was that I was writing strictly to the format instead of actually writing a story.

I ended up restarting my piece from scratch with a different story. I reminded myself to keep it to festival’s title, short and sweet, and more importantly write from something that I personally know. It was quite surprising that on the 2nd attempt, the story came out easier from my head to paper and by the end of the 2nd day of writing, I had practically wrote down 9 minutes of the story. It was that that point that I hit another snag in my Short+Sweet playwriting journey which was how to end my story.

Trying to find a satisfactory ending to my script was the hardest part of my writing journey. None of the endings that I’ve came up with at that point really worked. In my mind, I had to find an ending that I hoped would not only serve the story but also leave a mark with the audience. I went with one of the ending which I thought was best but was never really satisfied with because not only would it made the piece much darker in the end but it was also felt a bit overused to me since I’ve seen dark twists done in other plays before.

I was fortunate that I had a friend who read my script and immediately highlighted the weak way that the story ended. A single enlightening comment from him gave me the inspiration to totally revise the ending into the one that I have for the story now. If it was not for the peer review, I would not have been set on the path towards writing a much better ending that I felt good about to end the story. The experience enforced the notion that a writer needs someone to read what they have written for a fresh perspective that we would have lost by virtue of being so closely linked to the piece that we have written.

With a completed script in hand, I felt ready to submit it to be considered for the Short+Sweet 2009 Theater festival. I didn’t really think much of it after the submission until I found an email from Faridah in my inbox congratulating me on the acceptance of the script for the festival to be performed on stage no less. My words were going to be delivered by actors on stage! Needless to say, I was ecstatic for the whole week.

What started as a challenge was now an accomplishment and I could safely tick it off my list of things to do in life.

Note: Nandang Abdul Rahman’s “Unsaid” will be directed by Kelvin Wong and performed by Hunter Leow and Rashdan Harith during Week2 of the S+S Theater.

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