It’s residency week for my grad school, and as alums are allowed to attend certain seminars, I’ve been back a bit. I also wanted to be there to hear the readings of some of my colleagues’ plays. I was particularly struck this time around by “The Deep Purple,” by Andy Landis, because even without any tech and just words, she utilized effects like light, sound, and music, as well as a non-literal dreamlike quality to portray a very internal, emotional experience. Most people in my program, myself included, tend to take a really intellectual approach to writing, so it was very striking and special to see somebody create something that worked on an almost purely visceral level. I was very impressed. It’s actually pretty to neat to see how varied our strengths and weaknesses as writers are across the program. It got me thinking about my personal strengths and weaknesses as a writer. I think I’ll go over what I think they are here.
Let’s start with the positives for a change. My strengths:
Plot. I am quite good, I think, at coming up with engaging and logical series of events to drive the story. Interesting stuff happens in my pieces, and it tends to make sense! Nobody ever says, “Nothing happens in this story!”
Characters. Everybody thinks they’re good at creating characters, but I would say I come up with interesting people with complexities who behave in consistent, understandable ways. I also think I’m pretty good at balancing flaws and strengths in genuinely human ways.
Unity of theme. I pick compelling themes for my stories to explore and interweave them into the happenings with decent skill.
Active protagonists. My characters have clear desires and take definite action to achieve them, which moves the story and keeps the conflict high.
Narrative integrity. My stories make dramatic choices rather than taking the easy way out. My actions have consequences. My characters stay in character. I never I work very hard to never cop out in these ways just to be more comfortable or serve personal pleasure.
And now for my weaknesses:
Subtext. I am pretty lousy at conveying my meaning non-literally; I can never do those conversations where they’re talking about one thing but the audience can tell they really mean another thing. I tend to have people come out and say the things they mean, which can make things inelegant. This is currently the thing I’m working on.
Efficiency. In scriptwriting terms, this means using words of dialogue economically and making them serve the story in as many ways as possible—to move the plot, to develop the characters, to express the theme, etc. That’s very hard for me.
Balance. I struggle with interweaving multiple important developmental story elements together. I tend to only be able to make one thing happen at a time– all plot in this scene, all character in this scene, that sort of thing.
Subtlety. I am so afraid that if people don’t pick up on the themes/ideas in my piece, they’ll think there was nothing really there. So in fear of being too subtle and having my points missed, I tend to hammer them too hard. When I do try to be subtle, I think it tends not to come through at all. This is related to my inability to make subtext come through.
Diversity. I write about white straight people way too fucking much. Working on doing better. Puzzle House Blues is my current effort toward making progress in that direction, and it’s coming out well.
Now for things I’m not sure about:
Pacing. When it comes to plot movement, I think those aforementioned interesting events unfold at the right rate to keep you both hungry for more but without giving away the goods too early. But, related to the balance issue, I’m shit at picking the right moments to step away from the plot and focus on character development instead. Like, the plot alone unfolds at the right speed, but it tends to be all plot, without really any breath for pure character, and if I don’t manage to weave enough character in incidentally, it feels less fleshed-out.
Dialogue. I feel like my ability to make dialogue sound natural, like something somebody would actually say, is variable. I’m good at dialects and voice, though. But, related to the efficiency and subtext things, I know people don’t always come out and say the things they mean/want to talk about, and it increases the drama if they don’t, but I am bad at representing that.
Trope use/avoidance. I make an effort to be aware of narrative tropes– particularly ones about gender roles –in order to not fall into limiting traps. Ideally I would avoid problematic implications from avoiding them at certain times, and at other times deploying them to serve a purpose. But I think I fall into them without realizing more than I know. And I probably don’t always use them to best effect.
Interesting to think about! There’s probably more, but those are the ones that jump out at me.