So, maybe you remember that I’ve been posting about a dialogue-editing technique I learned about at the Dramatists Guild conference back in August.
I read through my play “How to Kill a Cactus,” and read only one character’s lines. Even after doing this for just two minor characters, I saw where their dialogue and their “voice” were inconsistent.
What’s more important, I saw how to fix the problems in the second act. Because in reading just one character’s lines, I didn’t get distracted by everything else in the script. And I could see where the characters weren’t pursuing their wants strongly.
I’m going to attach files with one scene, before rewriting and after. This is about midway through Act II.
Some background info:
Paula is a successful mystery writer who’s been having serious writers block, who’s missed several deadlines, and whose publisher is about to cancel her contract. Richard is her old high school flame, who’s renewed his attentions after she moved back to their small hometown in Mississippi. Thing is, Paula is married to Cathy, whom she met in Chicago. But Richard just can’t fathom her not being straight, and the word “bisexual” is barely in his vocabulary.
By this point in the play, a mystical old oak tree, that is the source of all of the town’s prosperity and happiness, has mysteriously died. Along with it, the entire town is dying.
In the “before” version of this scene, Paula is still her sweet, genteel, passive self. And Richard is trying the same old tactics to win Paula back. And mostly they’re just standing there! Not only do they not have any strong wants, they don’t have any strong action!
In the “after” version, Paula is – for a Mississippi woman – unbelievably rude and coarse. Richard is trying the most drastic tactic he can think of to fix what’s gone wrong and to get Paula back.
What’s more, in the “after” version, Richard finally accepts that Paula loves Cathy and is committed to her, and that he will never get Paula back. That’s been missing in all previous drafts, which explains why audience members had so many different suggestions about what should happen with Richard at the end. He didn’t definitively either get, or not get, what he wanted; in this version, he definitively does not get what he wants.
Let me know what you think.