What I Learned from Revising a Stageplay (And Failing)

A couple months ago, I rewrote a stageplay.

It wasn’t my stageplay, originally.  It was chosen to be the focus of a musical theater class I’m taking.  Unfortunately, it was no Shakespeare.  A couple of my friends and I agreed we might like to see a revamped version: something a bit funnier, less corny, and more character-driven.  So, keeping the plot intact, I rewrote it.  I typed it into Scrivener’s stageplay template, added a scene or two, and edited the dialogue.  I figured out a character arc for the main character, one that destroyed the play’s corniness and strengthened several characters at the same time.  I added as many jokes as I could, without destroying the emotion.  In fact, several of my posts from September came from (or went into) this project.  I had to put my novel-editing on hold for a little while, but editing something else allowed me to return to my own work with a more objective view.  The project had enormous benefits.

However, the teachers of the class didn’t feel comfortable with the changes.  Each student already had a copy of the script— to change it now would mean forcing everyone to unlearn and relearn their lines, based on my changes.  Furthermore, the class was based, rather strictly, on a videotaped production by another group.  Thus, in order to change the script, we would be riding without training wheels, without the video to back us up.  And anyway, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the script, as it was.  In fact, the teachers were actually aiming for a script that would be easy to work with, in terms of acting.  My script required a bit too much skill, skill that some of the younger actors might not have been able to achieve in a short time.

So, my script was trashed.  It wasn’t the right thing for this class— they wanted me as an actor, not as a writer.  While a revamped script would have been nice for the older students, it wouldn’t work for all the students, the way the teachers wanted to teach.

Honestly?  I didn’t mind.  It would have been great to get some writing onto the stage, but I’m not looking for stageplay creds.  It would have been interesting to see if my writing would have the depth it needed for actors to interpret it, but I can see that for myself, if I take a bit of time to look.  And while it took a lot of work to get it where I wanted it, all that work spanned a single week.  It wasn’t as if I had thrown months away on this project.

Most importantly, I learned.  I learned how to stop corniness.  I learned how to structure and place a joke.  I learned how to make dialogue count, to add antagonists when one is needed, and why plot structure is so important.  I learned how to create a sense of progression in travelogue style stories (I hope, at least— I may have done a shoddy job with that).  I learned to format a stageplay (which was Greek to me, even with Scrivener’s presets).  I learned to take my own advice and reread old posts to make my current work better.  I also learned to work with a deadline, finishing quickly without sacrificing quality.  I learned a lot.

If the script I wrote was denied, does all that learning go to waste?  You’re all smarter than that, I’m sure.  Everything I learn, from anything I do, sticks with me whether I succeed in the endeavor or not.  Especially in something like this, where it had nothing to do with my writing whether it was accepted or not, that learning will come in handy.

In fact, it already has.  Over the past month or so, I’ve been working on a semi-serious film project, to be enacted with a handful of friends.  Now, film is not stage, and I had to learn a lot of new material just to figure out how to brainstorm the project, but having prior experience in scripting, formatting, and time constraints helped a bunch.  Despite having written the complete script in two days, it’s one of the best short pieces I’ve written, in terms of dialogue, character, and miniaturized plot structure.  (And I can tell you now, taking the extra thirty seconds to make sure your dialogue isn’t boring is amazingly fruitful.)

And even if this project doesn’t work out, I will have learned something.  I will have put more knowledge behind my efforts this November in NaNoWriMo, not to mention the editing that will continue through December.  No work is ever wasted.  Indeed, failure is one of the best things that can happen to you, as long as you learn from it.

The only thing better?  Learning from success.

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32 thoughts on “What I Learned from Revising a Stageplay (And Failing)

  1. Too often, (talking about life in general) it’s hard to pick up what you’ve actually learned from your failure. For me, it’s hard to even realise I have actually learned something; my failure impacted me in some way? Made me better in some way? Though once I do realise that perhaps it has, the lesson is worthwhile.

    Last year when I was at school (this year I’m homeschooled), my friend and I wrote the script for a stageplay for our class and three others classes to perform. The jokes, puns, sarcastic lines I wanted to include (and put into the draft) were all turned down by the teacher. I thought it was because my lines weren’t good. Most of them probably weren’t, though like you said, it wasn’t the right thing for these classes. The script ended up seeming flat, and the main character was (if I say so myself) extremely boring. The stageplay could definitely have been a lot better, perhaps not with the lines I had wanted to include, but with more time to edit the whole thing.

    What I learned? Well, I don’t know if it meant my lines were plain bad, didn’t fit the purpose? Erg. Probably.

    Anyway, good post.

    And yes. I commented. 😛

    1. That’s the basis of this blog— figuring out my own mistakes. It gets easier with practice.

      That’s too bad. Well, it’s all experience toward the ultimate goal of being awesome. You’re on track.

      Yay!

  2. “I learned to take my own advice and reread old posts to make my current work better.” Yay for you! There’s nothing like following your own advice.

    Very interesting. Screenwriting, huh? I tried that when I was younger. Only without the writing part. I dragged some siblings actors into it and we kind of went improv, with me changing things as I saw fit necessary. It was fun, though afterwards I always looked at our “film” and found ten million errors. Suppose I learned from my own mistakes even then. Haven’t tried anymore films since I was about…eleven, I guess. I think what happened is my perfectionism side wouldn’t allow me to continue doing something that was obviously outside of my ability to do “right.” (We did not have any set locations besides the “messy house” or “small yard;” nor did we have enough actors, a soundtrack, and so on.) The last thing we did was some sort of music video about a year and a half ago. That I’m actually still pleased with, surprisingly.

    But anyway, glad you tried something new. Perhaps someday I’ll revisit the film world. Maybe I’ll even write a script this time.

    1. Indeed. It’s usually a good idea.

      That sounds fun, but I can see how it might not be too fulfilling. But I’m glad you’re still happy with the music video.

      Indeed. New things all around.

      1. New things are good. Expanding horizons, all that sort of thing. Now, what was the last new thing I tried. Uh, I ate Brazilian cheese bread of some kind. It was weird. That was on Tuesday. Before that? I have no idea…

  3. Excellent post.

    I have never tried filming myself, but I have attempted a few scripts (mostly books I wanted to see turned into films). The scripts were never finished and I wasn’t using a program or anything. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what I’d do with a script if I every wrote one… (how does one even get into film writing professionally?) But anyway. I’m looking forward to your film.

    By the way, I saw the synopsis for your NaNo Novel. Looks good (and that is one of the best synopses you’ve written for NaNo). I shall be posting my own synopsis soon.

    1. …And that’s funny, because I just saw it too, and laughed because–another girl, Liam? I think we’re starting to rub off on you…

      Kidding. I think it’s awesome.

      1. I can write male main characters? Of course, Liam has a point. On that same note, however, I should add that I still don’t have boys completely figured out (and probably never will) and that it’s easier for now for me to stick to my own gender for POV.

      2. I’ve tried one male main character. Not sure how well I did with that–no males have read what I did with him…

        I can’t even remember why I tried in the first place. New things, I guess.

        It was fun though.

      3. …And speaking of male main characters, I had a writing friend (who actually lives about ten minutes away from me…that’s a first) ask me what I knew about writing from a male’s POV. I said I didn’t know much, and she argued that I did fine with my book. (Again, she’s a girl, and she’s not incredibly experienced yet so I’m not sure I can count on that…) But anyway, she complained about smelly, ignorant, and annoying males and asked me if I happened to know any non-smelly, intelligent, and polite ones who “just write letters or something so I don’t have to actually socialize.” I just kind of blinked and…laughed later when I wasn’t around her anymore.

        Thanks for being a non-smelly, intelligent, and polite male. (That goes under weird compliments, I suppose.)

      4. Writing the opposite gender is exactly the same as writing your own. You just refer to the character as a he instead of a she.

        Thanks, I guess.

      5. Boys and girls think differently. Therefore they act and react different.
        Girls are often more prone to talking, showing emotion, and mood swings (if they are preteens or older).

      6. Sigh…what am I going to do with you…

        I meant more than the word for he or she. Robyn’s right.

        I told this friend that different things are important to the different genders, they express emotions differently, and so on. When my brothers are afraid, they do everything they can to hide it. When my sisters are afraid, they scream. When I’m afraid, I laugh… Often for girls it’s important to seem like they are perfectly coordinated (clothing wise and like, not falling down the stars wise) and boys to seem, I don’t know, strong I guess.

        I meant the mental differences more, I suppose.

    2. I’m pretty sure screenwriters do the same thing authors do, except to producers instead of agents; they write stuff, then send it off and hope it sells. When the producer gets it, they do pretty much everything else. I think that’s how it goes, at least…

      Excellent. It seemed a bit corny to me, but I think it did well. Thanks.

      1. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to figure that out… perhaps I should wait until I have said script written, though.

        Corny or not, at least it was certain.

        I’m having a fair amount of trouble writing my synopsis… hopefully, I’ll have a decent one up by the end of the weekend.

  4. Ha, yes! And that right there is why the first two or three years of my writing life were almost entirely fruitless; whenever I did something wrong, I just started over, rather than trying to figure out what I did wrong and learn from it. Okay, that’s not completely true. I did learn one lesson—starting over from scratch every time something goes wrong is not how you will one day end up with a finished product.

    I think I’m better about learning from my mistakes now, though. Ish. I still have bad habits I need to break, and in all honesty, I think I learn more about writing from reading your posts than I do from my own writing.

    So should I try to write a script now? Hehe.

      1. *sigh* It would be fun though.
        Or we could act out my script… it’s sort of my own spin on the original Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories, a bit more kid-friendly than “Sherlock.” Liam, you could be Lestrade! 😀 My brother is Mycroft. ^_^

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