Word Made Flesh

One of my friends, a really excellent writer, is in the throes of a fun time. Her first novel was accepted by an agent and she's been in talks with editors and publishers. In the middle of all of the excitement and stress and "yikes" feelings, she said, "It's so odd, kind of neat but mostly odd, that other people now have opinions about my characters."

I knew what she meant! I haven't (yet) written a novel accepted for publication, but a few of my short stories have appeared in journals. Every time one is accepted, I get a little thrill on behalf of the main character: "Oh, s/he's got a friend! I'm so happy for her!" In fact, almost every time I start a story, I label it with the name of the main character until the story title emerges. It's all about that character and telling her (or his) story to the best of my ability. Letting go of that person can be wrenching.

Here's (I think) another facet of that phenomenon.

For the past few years, some highly talented and dedicated artists in Thunder Bay have put on 10x10, a developmental project culminating in a festival of ten-minute plays. Ten-minute plays are a "thing" now, with InspiraTO in Toronto and festivals in Australia too.

Thunder Bay's project focuses on developing playwrights (though it provides cool, short-term, "why not take a risk?" opportunities for new and experienced directors and actors too). After workshops about writing and revising plays, local folks submit their best ten-minute plays. A jury picks ten of them for production; those whose work wasn't chosen still have the chance to have their plays read aloud. All of the playwrights can receive jury feedback to help guide their revisions; those whose work is chosen for performance can work with a dramaturge to make their play even better.

Revision is magic enough--I'm so happy and a little stunned when I finish a good revision of a story or essay--but there's more.

Then a director gets involved, and a new kind of magic begins--someone else has an opinion about your characters, someone who has the power to help bring them to life. The magic continues through the production, as more people become involved and some actually walk around in your characters' skins.

It's all kind of amazing and magical.

Again, I haven't seen this first-hand. My husband is the playwright of this household (so far), but I will admit to standing behind him while he does early revisions. On occasion I say inappropriately intrusive things like "Omigod take THAT out or it'll hijack the entire play" and "He really needs to be a bigger jerk" and "Seriously? That joke is funny only to you." Sometimes he listens, and sometimes he's just wrong. (Kidding!) (Mostly.)

I was out of town for the first year's production, but the past two years have been really fun and interesting. Sitting in the audience, hearing people cheer or gasp when characters do something--when you've known those characters since they existed in pixels on a screen--it's, yep, odd. Also, very neat. I can only imagine how much more intense the experience is when you knew the characters in your own brain, before they became pixels.

And (back to the writer and her debut novel) a little frightening. Letting go of a character can leave writers (to say nothing of directors and actors) vulnerable.

So, back to something I first heard recommended by Craig Mazin on the Scriptnotes Podcast (recommended last week): how about approaching someone else's art with generosity of spirit?

Because those characters? They're people. And behind those characters is another person, perhaps several, through pixels and back to another person.

In fact, it's people all the way down.