Archive | August, 2011

SEASONS Playwrighting Edition: call for entries

25 Aug

“A playwright, also known as a dramatist, is a person who writes dramatic literature or drama. The term is not a variant spelling of “playwrite”, but something quite distinct: the word wright is an archaic English term for a craftsman or builder (as in a wheelwright or cartwright). Hence the prefix and the suffix combine to indicate someone who has wrought words, themes, and other elements into a dramatic form, someone who crafts plays. The homophone with write is in this case entirely coincidental.”

The International Centre for Women Playwrights (ICWP) is searching for playwrighting tips, tricks and strategies. In this edition of Seasons we want to know all about your craft. What useful tools help you in wrighting your plays? What’s the best advice you’ve received? What are your techniques for fine tuning your structure? What sets your playwrighting apart from your other writing? Are you a dramaturg with advice to share?

Please complete this form by 31 August if you’re interested in contributing. We will let you know if your article fits this edition by 5 September. Final deadline for submission of articles will be 23 September. If you have any questions, please mail us at


Don’t write what you assume

11 Aug

The advice several writers are given when they are starting out is ‘write what you know’. This is patently stupid advice if taken literally. What I knew when I wrote my first play was very little indeed. If we stuck to that advice we’d never have Lord of the Rings, or Southpark, or Star Trek, or Harry Potter. We wouldn’t have Ben Hur, or movies like ‘Never Let Me Go’.

What I’ve always amended this to, when people bother to ask me, is write from what you know. Find the point of connection to the situation or character you’re writing about. Maybe you’re both mothers. Maybe you’ve both had to leave home and travel across the world. By both I mean you and the character, in case you’re wondering – I believe everything comes from characters. If your characters are believable, then your plot can ride on top of them. If your characters are not believable, the most devilish of plots will leave your audience cold. Bluntly: if I don’t care about your characters, I think you’re a bad writer.

So how do you find that point of connection, that way in to your story? I would like to amend the above to ‘don’t write what you don’t know’. And honestly, why would you want to? I’m not saying it’s impossible. But when I see a play about ‘how women feel about their breasts’ and it’s written (and directed) by a man, I am going to wonder why. If you set your play during the Irish potato famine, make sure you know what the potato famine was.

Ooh, a further amendation, and I think I’ve nailed it this time: don’t write about what you assume you know. Because other people, your audience or readers, they will really know. If you write about a woman who miscarries, you need to know it will ring true for a woman who has miscarried. If you don’t nail your character’s truth, people will know. They will spot you a mile away.

It comes to this, for me. Yes, the historical sticklers may (will) pick up on an error in the costuming of your period drama – but if your heroine has captured the audience’s hearts, it will be a petty detail. The character’s truth: that’s what you need to know. The rest you can make up – you are a writer, after all, aren’t you?

A Simple Answer

2 Aug

This blog is mostly about words. The power of words to shape the way we think. Without us even realising it.

Democracy. It’s one of those deceptively simple words. And it’s one we like to spout, right up til the second it stops working in our favour. Here are a few definitions of it:

  1. government by the people or their elected representatives by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.
  2. a state having such a form of government
  3. a state of society characterized by formal equality of rights and privileges.
  4. a political or social unit governed ultimately by all its members
  5. the practice or spirit of social equality
  6. a social condition of classlessness and equality
  7. the common people, esp as a political force

A black friend of mine (@TOMolefe, for those of you on Twitter) asked me a “simple question” last night. Yeah right, Osiame. His question was, to paraphrase, “why do you not get sucked into the ‘making the issue the issue without bringing race into it’ thing that many  white people do?” My response was: I really don’t see what’s so earth shattering about the way I think. To me, what I’m about to say is just plain sensible – and is my interpretation of democracy, as above.

Quite simply: I find it crass to force my assumptions and opinions on others. And I find it dangerous to dismiss theirs without truly hearing them. It’s about a letting go of ego, and the desire to constantly whine “but I’M not like that” – and to look at the bigger picture. There’s that democracy thing. Elected leaders. Mass opinion. Hello white people: you are the minority. Just because you don’t like the elected leaders, doesn’t make them wrong. And here’s where the danger comes in. We can’t dismiss Malema and his opinions any more than we can dismiss the concerns of the disenfranchised poor white Afrikaners. To focus on the bombast, and the “cheap” issues like trust funds, is to ignore the very relevant concerns Malema raises, and the vast numbers of people who share those concerns. The majority of smug white people, as my last post indicated, piss the hell out of me. I can fully understand him being angrier than I am. Furthermore, even if you do choose to consider Malema a twat, it does get rather tedious using that as your go to response as to why you’d never vote ANC. Please don’t let Malemaitis blind you to reality. Let the issue be the issue, but realise that here and now, in this country, the colour of your skin is, well, as obvious as the nose on your face.

I am perplexed by white people who live in big cities, have never been to a township, let alone a rural village, and haven’t spent time getting to know or understand anyone else’s culture believing they have the right to cast judgement on others. Where do you live? What makes you think you think you know better than everyone else? Democracy not looking so pretty to you after all, is it, when the majority is “wrong”. Oops. Apparently, this makes me a #badwhite. If so, it’s a label I’ll wear with pride. All I’m asking is that you get off your hobbyhorses long enough to actually, truthfully, listen. To me, that just seems like common sense. “A social condition of classlessness and equality” – a little scary, isn’t it?

I stand by my words. Democracy. Crust and all.