Your Words Right Back at You

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with a friend Ailsa on Instagram who is a professional actor. She was asking her peers for monologue resources, as she was having little success finding good ones either online or in books.

You might remember in October I made a script submission to the Traverse Theatre in Glasgow. This is in monologue form, and I’d already wanted to hear it read by an actor to check whether someone else would interpret my words as I’d intended. However, I wouldn’t have had time to do this before the submission date.

Nonetheless, I asked Ailsa whether she was interested in making an audio recording. After some discussion about what form it should take and her fees for doing this, she sent on the recordings a few days later.

Holy mackarel, I should have done this a long time ago. Ailsa had added pauses and shifts in tone of voice, all in-keeping with the character. By the final scene, I couldn’t believe the life that had been injected into my own words.

Probably the most illuminating part was how little would need to be rewritten. The corrections identified so far are all minor, and come to a total of less than half a page of A4.

Over the last three weeks, I’ve been working on finishing another play, this time a dialogue. When it’s time to review this, I’m seriously considering hiring other actors to read it for me.

When you don’t like your own work.

Last week, I discussed what to do when you don’t like someone else’s work, be it a novel or a live event, and a big thank-you for all the responses I received. However, I had an experience last week where I didn’t like part of my own work.

I was invited to write a piece inspired by the D’Arcy Thompson Museum at the University of Dundee, which would then be performed in the museum a few weeks later. Sir D’Arcy was a naturalist who disagreed with some aspects of Charles Darwin’s work, and the museum houses his surviving specimens.

I’m quite used to turning round work very quickly: I write it, leave it alone for a few days or a few weeks – depending on the deadline – then give it an edit. If I’ve time, I might be able to repeat this process, refining further each time.

With the Sir D’Arcy piece, I struggled to come up with the idea in the first place even after two long visits to the collection. Finally, I wrote a short poetic monologue inspired by a seven-foot narwhal tusk on the wall. The piece imagines what might have happened when the tusk was delivered to Sir D’Arcy and his students, and uses this to demonstrate that some of his ideas and views are now accepted by today’s scientists.

I was happy with the first section of the piece, but was less happy with the second, which I felt broke the Show, don’t tell rule. I felt it was too factual as the story was not shown through the actions of a character, as in the first section. The actual reading went well, but if I had more time, I could have improved it; in the process of writing this entry, I’ve thought of a possible way.

However, unless I’m invited back for a second performance – and that is a hint to the organisers – I have to accept that I put out what I consider to be substandard work.