YEN: Feltham to Manchester, London, New York
The Bruntwood Prize has found winners whose work has been produced all around the UK and the world, from the United States to Australia. Following…
I think it’s usual to see the world we create through the eyes of one or two of our characters. Stories tend to have one or two main protagonists and the rest are less active, contribute less to the plot. It makes sense to follow our leading lady or man as we write. But it’s easy to neglect those other characters.
I mean, this is a pretty well-known story:
A young man called Jack sells his cow for beans. Angry, his mum throws them out of the window and overnight a beanstalk grows there. Jack climbs it and discovers a giant’s castle. He steals a magic hen and a golden harp from the giant who is sleeping. When he reaches the ground Jack chops the beanstalk down, killing the giant and his wife.
But what about from this angle:
A giant lived peacefully in his castle with his wife. One day, as he slept, a young criminal called Jack climbed a beanstalk and broke into the giant’s castle, stealing two of his most prized possessions. Before the giant had a chance to chase him Jack legged it down the beanstalk and chopped it down with an axe. The giant and his wife were killed instantly as their castle came crashing to the ground.
An old woman was so poor she sent her simple son to market to sell their cow. He came back with nothing but a bag of magic beans. Furious, she threw the beans out of the window and went to bed. In the morning she awoke to a massive beanstalk in the garden and no Jack. She was terrified for his safety. A couple of hours later he raced down the beanstalk and chopped it down with an axe. A huge castle came crashing to the ground. Jack brought incredible riches, which would solve their money worries forever, although the old woman did have to deal with the two dead giants in her garden.
There was this cow….
You get the picture. (As you can probably tell from the above I’m anti-Jack, pro-giant.)
When I finished writing my play Yen I had a moment of realisation: in those early drafts I always saw the story through the eyes of the older brother, Hench. This was unconscious. I guess I loved him most. Out of all of the characters he found it hardest to express himself, so maybe I had his back more. Once I’d realised this I started to read the play again and again, each time seeing the world through the eyes of a different character. It quickly became clear that those other characters needed and deserved way more attention than I had given them. Once I had addressed this the story became deeper, richer and more real. I filled a lot of holes. This is a process I repeat to this day.
As an exercise you could try a writing synopsis of your play from each character’s perspective, as I did above for Jack. You can do it for very minor characters too. This should help you see the story and the world from their perspective, and see where there are holes that need filling. In fact, just the act of writing a synopsis of your play is a useful exercise in itself – it can really help with the clarity of the story.
Big love and luck with your Bruntwood Entry.