Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Belmont Diary: Rough draft

I did it. I finished my rough draft of my Belmont mystery in--let's see now--42 days. And that includes five days I took off for trips to Williams, AZ (home of the world's largest Route 66 sign) and San Diego.

I'm pretty sure that's a record for me. But I managed to pull it off for a couple of reasons.

One, I knew exactly what the teachers and students were looking for in terms of setting and theme. And two, I didn't have the luxury (or temptation, perhaps) of endlessly toying around my words. I had to keep moving forward.

I still have a ton of work ahead of me. My rough drafts are really rough. And by that I mean I'd rather get a root canal without anesthetic than let anyone see them. The characters aren't all over the map. The dialogue is clunky. The plot is riddled with holes.

But the basic story is there, and that's what counts.

The script came in at an even 80 pages. That means it should run about 80 to 90 minutes, which is exactly what the school is looking for. The only problem is that the acts are uneven. Act One comes in at a bloated 56 pages, Act Two a too slim 24. My first order of business is to make those a little more even.

The other thing is the distribution of line counts. I was happy to find that the main character, a flighty, self-absorbed socialite named Pansy, had 163 lines--much less than the 350 that the main characters in The Butler Did It! and Lights! Camera! Murder! had. And not easy to do in a mystery, where you typically have one character leading the investigation of the murder (Pansy does here).

But it's necessary if I want the play to have a life after Belmont. My publisher recently told me that a play will often struggle to find productions if it has one big part and lots of small parts. What theater teachers are looking for is an even distribution of parts or at least a healthy mixture of big, medium and small parts--something I've vowed to make happen from here on out.

Yep, there's a lot of work to do. And only 64 days to do it in (the final draft is due October 1).

But the hard part is done. The rest is all revision, and I love doing that stuff.

Time to get back to... play.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Evergreen Bookshop hits the silver(ish) screen


Most schools are socially distancing their theatrical productions these days, with students performing in masks and/or recording their performances for posting online. In doing so, they've shown a lot of determination, resourcefulness and creativity, and they all deserve major props for their efforts.

I especially love a recent production I came across from the Evergreen State. Lakes High School in beautiful Lakewood, WA went above and beyond the norm by filming their production like a movie, with professional-quality editing and very cool digital backgrounds. And the performances are so dynamic, you almost forget that the actors are wearing masks. I especially like the in-book credits at the end.

You can check it out above. And if you have your own production you'd like me to highlight, please send me an email. I look forward to seeing it! 

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Belmont Diary: Breaking the story

Before you can write a story, you have to know where it's going. That was the challenge that faced me this week as I sat down to hash out the story for my Belmont Day School commission

The play is to be a comedy/mystery set in a mansion with a cast of 40. It's not required, but I want to make it a single-set play because this'll make it much more marketable after it's published. I also love real-time plays like farces that forego scene breaks in order to keep the action going from lights up to lights down.

But how do you fit that many characters in a story, and make each role important (if not necessarily large)? I could have the play focus around a party, but that won't easily lend itself to the mystery that the kids want to perform.

Mysteries, on the other hand, tend to have one very large role--the detective investigating the crime, whether amateur or not--and lots of small roles representing the suspects. That won't work either, but the school specifically asked for eight of the roles to be major.

Nope. This play will have to have to be structured differently.

I think I finally came up with it. What if the eight roles represented the family--a dysfunctional one, with four adult children gathering for the reading of their late father's will? And what if the mystery wasn't about solving a murder, but finding some priceless object that the father hid--a treasure that represents his entire fortune?

And then, a complication. The night that the will is read, a storm hits the island where the mansion is located and the other islanders are forced to take a refuge in the mansion. This would provide the rational for a whole variety of small and medium roles, and they could pass through the set episodically, giving each small group of characters their own cherished time in the spotlight.

What's more, this would provide a funny, farcelike energy as the islanders learn about the treasure and promptly go rogue, each of them rifling through the mansion in their effort to find it first.

I'll have to play up the mystery, maybe add a riddle that leads the family to the treasure. And I'll need to work on the relationship angle, with the family learning to overcome their differences to find the treasure at the end.

But I think this'll work.