How to Shine Some Brilliance on the Core Problem of Your Play
I found myself writing this totally weird, wacky, sinister, improbable, funny conspiracy-theory play that reminds me of The X-Files at its most droll. It revolved around this weird idea that there such a thing as pneumonic meningitis, or meningitis that can be spread by the breath and is almost instantaneously fatal.
Now, I seriously doubt that this makes any scientific or medical sense. Any doctor or nurse would probably laugh out loud.
But I did need to figure out how I thought this would work.
How to Do It
Write down “Something that I don’t understand about my play is…”
Then write for 15 minutes, without stopping, about what you don’t understand about your play. But don’t come up with any answers – that comes later. Just keep writing about the thing you don’t understand.
An Example – What I Wrote
I don’t understand what actually happened to Tim and the other men. I don’t understand the mechanism by which this pneumonic meningitis is communicated, or spread. I don’t know the mechanism by which it is engendered in these men.
Does it come from the treatment received at one hospital? More than one?
Was there a supplier, as there is now for that meningitis treatment?
What happens to people after the contagious period?
Are they “safe” then?
Is there any vaccine or antibody to this pneumonic meningitis?
Do we know for sure that it exists?
Is it just men of a certain age? Who were treated at a certain time? Treated a certain way?
All men, or only some? Say, only white men, or only men of Scots-Irish descent, or only first-born sons.
Why do only other runners get it?
Is it passed during running?
Why then and not other times?
Why does it affect only certain other runners? Does it?
Or does it just seem to affect (i.e. kill) women as well as men, and is it just coincidental that men have been killed, because men tend to run with other men?
Why doesn’t it spread during races?
Does it only kill men (or people) of the same age as the carrier?
How is the carrier immune?
When is the carrier contagious? A certain time of year? At their birthdays? The same time of year that they were treated?
What mechanism releases the pneumonic meningitis?
Would reading about pneumonic plague help me, or hinder me?
Why did the treatment stop? Back in the 1960s.
Was the manufacturer trying to solve some problem?
Make a better vaccine?
Create biological warfare? Some word starting with g? (I wrote “G” then crossed it out and wrote “Create.”)
Why do other people, brothers and sisters etc. in the family not get infected?
Is it only running, or can other activities, such as swimming, also trigger a release?
Does the carrier always exhale pneumonic plague bacilli? Or, only in bursts?
Does someone need repeated doses to sicken and die?
Do people get sick without dying? If so, what are the symptoms?
Why these men?
Why Duke Raleigh?
Were the boys targeted, or watched, did Duke Raleigh or the government know there was a cure and not do anything, just watch, as they did to the men studied in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study?
Do lots of people think those men were infected deliberately?
How does Thomas get in touch with Dr. G?
How does Elena really find out about the phenomenon?
Is she working for Roche or whoever? The government?
Is she human?
Is vampirism involved?
Can I keep you interested in the play for long enough to you to find out the answer?
Will I leave it unsettled, ambiguous, as does or did The X-Files?
Could I have someone to go to the FBI and try to talk to Fox Mulder and… Scully? Refer to them obliquely, so as to avoid copyright and other IP issues, but so X-Files fans recognize them.
What if Mulder and Scully have to turn down the case?
The Brilliance I Found
During the early 1960s, an experimental treatment for certain forms of bacterial meningitis in very young children was tested at Duke Raleigh hospital in North Carolina. It appeared to work for many of the children, but then a few of them died, and the study was discontinued immediately. But the researchers didn’t know – but maybe the government did – was that the experimental vaccine created a node in the top lobe of their right lung that harbored the meningitis bacteria.
When the surviving subjects of the study reached their early 50s, this node on their lungs began responding to normal hormonal changes that men experience in their 50s; it began to grow a virulent strain of meningitis that could be transmitted by breath. It only happened when the endorphins experienced during “runner’s high” were released. In other words, those of the surviving subjects who had grown up to be runners would unconsciously release the bacteria through their breath when they were running. If they were running with someone, and that person inhaled the pneumonic meningitis bacteria, he or she would be dead within 5 minutes.
As the carrier got older, normal hormonal changes would neutralize the node, and the person would no longer grow the bacteria.
So (cue spooky music) was the government behind all this? The CDC? Maybe it was secretly an experiment to create a deadly form of germ warfare to use during the Cold War. Will our protagonist find out? Will the carriers be saved? Or will they all be snuffed out by the government?
Or will the protagonist realize that it’s a far-fetched theory and she’s been chasing conspiracy ghosts?
I guess I’ll find out. 😉