The things that help you write a play. (Shrug.)

Megan and her mom, on a swing.

Megan and her mom, on a swing.

So, I planned to do a little post about this picture and my mom and the original impetus for writing this play for my Wednesday post, and guess what? It’s my mom’s birthday today! Perfect timing!

I actually found this picture right when I had to build a story idea for a screenplay last winter. I had in my mind this mother-daughter relationship—this mother that can talk to Jesus and hear Him talk back, and the intellectual (Christian) daughter that secretly struggles with that fact.

I found this picture, and I loved this picture, instantly and for all time. Look at my mom, beautiful and laughing, and look at me, tiny and worried. Look at that face. I’m clearly trying desperately to enjoy myself. I know I’m supposed to be enjoying the ride. It’s a swing. Mom’s holding me. And if nothing else, I have always been a person that knows what’s expected of her—even at age 2, trying to smile on the brink of my own death. Because really, my little self is convinced that my mother’s joy is premature, that she’s gonna slip, I’m gonna slip, something’s about to go horribly wrong, whatever it is, it’s gonna be terrible, my little self knows it.  Look at my face, my furrowed brow! Look at my little leg, twisted behind hers, clamped, a guard against life’s many and overwhelming dangers.

So, this is what I took into the writing process with me—this picture, these two characters, and this relationship between two people that have fundamentally different understandings of their circumstance. Then, of course, I made the daughter a comic, and the screenplay went its own way, and then the adapted play really went its own way, which is good, and annoying, and I have a lot of work ahead. Re-writing is difficult. Madhuri, Zury, and I have been talking about it. Sometimes a collection of funny, interesting scenes doesn’t add up to anything special, or to the special thing you hope for, and it’s really difficult to stay true to small moments and characters within them while also trying to develop a more meaningful structure.  Something horrible might happen. It might all go terribly wrong.

I re-found this picture recently, and I’m gonna keep it with me for the re-writes, because it’s surprising how much of that little Megan is in the play and how much of her laughing mother, despite the characters’ individual views of comedy and God. I have a tendency to complicate plays. I get nervous or bored, and add another dimension to the character, another relationship, another conflict, something else that can simmer, hidden, something else to boil over. Why did she have to be a comic? (Shrug.) See, I do it even before I start writing, so there’s no real way to un-do it. Sarah is a comic, and Pilar heard from God she’s gonna die in a plane crash. Now, how does that relate? I’ve learned not to dislike this about my work. But it requires some extra discipline in shaping the whole thing.  It requires me to keep a hold of fundamental things, even if they’re hidden and slippery and there’s a lot going on besides. What does this character Sarah really believe in her heart of hearts? And what does she want?  Basic dramaturgical questions, and I’m working on them. I think it might have to do with the swing, but I could also be crazy. That’s a possibility. It’s a great picture, though, right? My mom is so much fun—she’s that much fun, all the time—and I’m so glad she was born.


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