While trying to decide whether to go see a play (Burn This in Los Angeles), I read in one of the reviews, “…the production ‘doesn’t agitate from an essence.’” A great phrase that the reviewer borrowed from a friend. Most writing instructors find a way to say the same thing – and it’s related to what motivates you to write in the first place – what is the piece about? There has to be some central conflict.
Ha, it just occurred to me that the central agitator has largely disappeared from our washing machines. In top loading washers, there used to be an agitator that pulled the clothing downward in the center towards the agitator; the clothing then moved out and up the sides of the basket and the cycle repeated. In front-loaders agitation is supplied by the back-and-forth rotation of the cylinder and by gravity.
This doesn’t seem like a bad metaphor for what’s happened to drama in general lately. Instead of real conflict between characters that generates their actions, we get a lot of back and forth and it leaves us unsatisfied, regardless of whether it’s in a book, on TV, a stage or in a film.
What is your book, play, film really about? What’s the core conflict because chances are, that conflict is the motor driving you to write as well. Good vs. evil? Justice vs. injustice? Ignorance vs. wisdom? What makes you angry? What really gets to you?
Next, pay attention to how you traditionally have your characters solve their conflicts. The major strategies are to ignore it, negotiate it, smooth it over, use their power and authority to settle it, or collaborate to resolve the conflict.
There’s no right or wrong answer here; it’s about finding your voice, your style, your reason for moving forward as an artist. What is the essence that agitates you? Once you can identify it, you’ll see that you can’t help but keep writing about it. Now go write something great.
If you’re a procrastinator, check out this blog post
p.s. I decided to pass on the play.