Friday, July 15, 2011

Evidence of Things Not Seen

Once upon a time, I played the character Douglass in a play called "Party Time" by Harold Pinter. A friend of mine was playing Dame Melissa. When we mentioned to some friends that we were in the same play, they exclaimed, "Cool. We'll come. What's it about?"

That, as it turned out, was where the trouble started. Because, after staring at each other for two minutes, we realized that having auditioned for, been cast in, and read the play, we still couldn't say what it was about.

Of course, two months later, when we were ready to go up, we could answer that question almost succinctly. It just took some explaining.

As it turns out, the thing that made the play so interesting but also so hard to describe that it didn't have the usual sort of plot. This occurred, but they didn't coalesce toward one main character or one main goal. Instead, the real action of the play all seemed to be happening off-stage.

The play was about what all the characters weren't talking about or were being told not to talk about.

This is a tricky proposition. How does one build an entire plot whilst not saying things? How does one delete just enough to leave gaps big enough to see but small enough things don't fall through?

While I firmly believe that black cannot be seen without white and that it is entirely possible to draw a white egg on a white paper using only colored pencils, I wonder how much we can leave not there and have people still be able to see anything at all.

Obviously, it can be done. It has been done. But I find it a tricky and intimidating consideration nonetheless.

I do not favor the minimalist style when I write. In my first draft, I chuck things on the paper. Tons of things, not always with a clear plan about what to do with them or a full understanding of what they mean. In my next draft, I carve things out that I don't need anymore, things that were overstated, things I changed my mind about. I create the white space that wasn't there again. Then again, in later drafts, I also add things back in. I set up things I'd made decisions about later in the process. I change things do not reflect my final vision of the character. I add the black back in.

Writing's a growing process, to my way of seeing it. Each draft is a continuous process of shading and erasing, altering line thicknesses and darkness. To varying degrees, of course. But I do know that, by the time I'm done, it's a piece composed largely of what is said, not what is unsaid.

How about you? Do you favor the spoken or the unspoken when you read? When you write?


  1. As a reader, I prefer the unspoken. As a writer, there's a lot of work behind the scenes to make sure the reader sees the unspoken, if that make sense. My initial drafts of an idea, are flurried and excitable squiggles on paper, and I add to them, flesh out the story ( this is when I write) - and then as you say, take out parts. Usually the unnecessary parts which don't destroy the story and are generally excess anyway.

  2. Talei -- I agree, there's a lot of awesome and magic in the unstated. I also agree that getting something to be unsaid and yet apparent is really freaking hard.