Reflections on 31 Plays in 31 Days 2016

Well, I have completed the challenge for the fifth year in a row! I sure do like looking at five years’ worth of complete lists of everything I wrote.

I went into this wondering if maybe it wasn’t a good idea to do the challenge this year. I was finishing up a piece, the Hood pilot, which meant it would need more editing than generating very soon into the month. And then I had to focus on writing a bible for the show right after. It wasn’t the most conducive situation to a challenge where you’re just supposed to write new scenes. I was nervous that having to keep up with the challenge would become a burden and a distraction from the work I was supposed to be completing at this time. And then I’d just end up posting old scenes anyway that were written already.

I did end up needing to post some scenes that were written before the day I put them up. About four, starting with Day #7, were posted because I needed to do other writing work on that day. A few before that were posted because, even though I wrote new scenes, I didn’t want to post ones that revealed later climactic parts of the piece. So shockingly, most of what I wrote was new. I wrote scenes for Adonis, the Frasier spinoff idea, the Bridesmaids comedy, and Mrs. Hawking parts 4, 5, 6, and 7. All useful for projects I care about! Given that I wrote at least one scene a day for every day of the previous month as well, it’s probably one of the most solidly productive periods I’ve ever had.

Since 2013, the second year I did this, I’ve shifted my focus away from writing original standalone pieces and towards writing scenes for larger projects that are important to me. It’s been a really useful thing for me to do. I find that I am most productive when I use a drafting process— as in, bang out some garbage just so it exists, and then go back and improve it later. It prevents me from getting so hung up on imperfections that I don’t actually write anything, which is a problem I’m inclined to. Frankly, it works better if I’ve done outlining and planning beforehand so I know what each scene is supposed to include. That didn’t really happen this time, as I’d been working on the Hood pilot in the lead up this time around. But even without that, it definitely lowers the mental barrier to just getting writing done. My brain craves structure, and 31P31D effectively provides it.

Here’s a breakdown of what I wrote this year:

Mrs. Hawking – 11 = 35.5%
– Part 4 – 3 = 9.7%
11. “Bloody Great Fool”
17. “Reginald Managed It”
28. “Loyal Servant of the Empire”
– Part 5 – 3 = 9.7%
1. “A Separate Battlefield”
10. “As My Guest”
12. “The One You Should Fear”
– Part 6 – 2 = 6.5%
16. “From a Bloody Nightmare”
30. “Alone”
– Part 7 – 1 = 3.2%
29. “After Two Years”
– Miscellaneous – 2 = 6.5%
25. “Wedding Toast”
31. “True Gentleman”

Crane Boys – 8 = 25.8%
14. “The Cousins Crane”
15. “Subtle But Unmistakeable Disappointment”
19. “Lucky Bear”
20. “Reaching Out”
22. “Men of the Ivies”
23. “Hanging”
24. “Grading Circle of Hell”
27. “Grow Up”

Hood – 7 = 22.6%
2. “Bullseye”
3. “Rich Boy Out of Water”
6. “More Than Flash”
7. “Let the Grown Ups Handle It”
8. “Get the House in Order”
18. “He’ll Show Them”
21. “Run”

Adonis – 2 = 6.5%
5. “Carrying”
26. “A Small Thing”

Bridesmaids – 2 = 6.5%
9. “Nothing in Common”
13. “About Me”

Beloved Monster – 1 = 3.2%
4. “The Part of Me I Kept for You”

Freddy Crane – 8
David Crane – 6
Nathaniel Hawking – 6
Robin Locksley – 6
John Prince – 5
Marian Doncella – 4
Victoria Hawking – 4
Scarlet Scathlock – 4
Mary Stone – 4
Maureen Bell – 2
Nancy Breyer – 2
Hannah Brodsky – 2
Jess Diaz – 2
Elizabeth Frost – 2
Guy Gisborne – 2
Clara Hawking – 2
Leah Keoh – 2
Paulina Rao – 2
Tanya Stern – 2
Arthur Swann – 2
Beast – 1
Callisto – 1
Diana – 1
Alice Doyle – 1
Reginald Hawking – 1
Maid – 1
Morna – 1
Much Miller – 1
Pavilla – 1
Eleanor Prince – 1

As with last year, when I had to sub in scenes to post, it’s not a totally accurate representation of what I wrote this month, but I do like looking at the data anyway.

At the moment Hood is the most important project for me. I’m really pleased with myself for that one, as I wrote a solid, commercial action pilot with only about two months development. That is ridiculously quick!

I want to continue with the Mrs. Hawking stories, so the fact that I wrote so many scenes for them is definitely valuable, particularly since I want to put together part 4 in the near future. Over the years I’ve done quite a few scenes of part 4 during 31P31D, so I’ve got a nice head start. Also, this was the first time I wrote much for part 5, the plot of which I had literally zero idea for until recently. Figuring out that Nathaniel was going to get taken captive really blew a lot of that open! For some reason it’s fun writing scenes about him being tied to a chair. 😆

The other project I really did a fair bit of work for was my idea for a Frasier spinoff pilot. Now I know it’s not the best use of my time. Unless I get an opportunity to talk directly to NBC, it’s basically just fan fiction. But I actually think I have a pretty strong idea for it, and I ended up writing the first half of it shockingly easily. That probably means I can finish it pretty easily as well, meaning it’s not going to distract too much from other work. I really would get a kick out of finishing it, so I’m probably going to. (Plus Londo asked me to, and I’m a sucker for writing stuff that people enjoy.)

I didn’t work much on Adonis, which I’m slightly sorry about. I haven’t been thinking about it that much recently as I’ve had more pressing projects, but I do want to continue onto the next story. I also wish I’d done more for Bridesmaids, as I think that has a lot of potential as a funny half-hour comedy show. But that pilot will require plot planning, which as I mentioned I didn’t really have time to do. Still, I’m really happy with how the (two combined pieces of the) opening scene came out, so I think it’d be worth working out.

Some random observations. Three of these (#2 – Bullseye, #9 – Nothing in Common and #13 – About Me combined, and #15 – Subtle but Unmistakeable Disappointment) were openers for the pilot episodes of TV shows. I like all three of them, but I think Bullseye is the best screenplay beginning I’ve ever written. I love the idea, and the execution was a bitch, but I’m super happy with how it came out. Amusingly, the other two both use the device of the lead character talking to a psychiatrist about their situation. I guess you could say the repetition’s awkward, but I think the device works in both cases.

Freddy Crane, who was in all 8 scenes I wrote for his pilot, is the character who appeared most frequently. Mrs. Hawking appears in the most 31P31D scenes over the five years I’ve done it, but she only ended up in 4 this time around. The second, third, and fourth most common characters were David Crane, also appearing in the Frasier spinoff, Robin Locksley the protagonist of Hood, and Nathaniel Hawking, all with 6 scenes each. Despite these frequent appearances, I wrote about twice as many different female characters as male.

My favorite scenes I wrote this month? I have a few. As I said, #2 – Bullseye is an awesome TV show opener. #17 – Reginald Managed It explores some really important emotions of Mrs. Hawking’s. #1 – A Separate Battlefield has Clara and Mrs. Hawking clashing, which is always fun. #9 – Nothing in Common is actually pretty damn funny, and sets up the Bridesmaid cast really well. #31 – True Gentleman is cute and sweet.

Least favorite? Mostly the ones I know will be important scenes but I wrote so fast and so sloppily they didn’t come out well. #28 – Loyal Servant of the Empire is a particular offender, as is #29 – After Two Years and #30 – Alone. #26 – A Small Thing feels like a waste. I am so eager to examine Pavilla’s objectification of Aidan, but I can’t quite figure out how extreme to take it, so I keep backing off and taking the teeth out of it. But you know, mostly what I wrote I’m pretty pleased with— at least the ideas in them, even if most of them will have to be edited to make funnier, sharper, or less rushed. I notice they tend to cluster near the end when I’m pushing to finish.

Favorite lines? I love the therapist in #9 – Nothing in Common telling Jess “We discussed this. I can’t laugh at everything to make it okay.” In #25 – Wedding Toast, “Now… I’d best straighten my tie and shut my gob, before all this fair regard makes me become truly un-English,” is just a cute little character moment for Nathaniel. I also like him telling Mrs. Frost the title line, in #12 – The One You Should Fear. But I think the very best is from #17 – Reginald Managed It, when an uncharacteristic ally soft Mrs. Hawking says, “Oh, Reginald. We ruined one another, didn’t we?” Then, hardening again, “But he chose it. Not me.”

So, despite my reservations, I am pretty damn happy with having done this challenge. I guess this is why I keep coming back after it year after year.


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