I was at dinner a few years ago when a friend (also a playwright) asked me about the new play I was working on. It’s a flattering question. You mean someone actually wants to hear about my new play? After three or four minutes into the conversation the waiter was standing there asking us if we wanted to order something to drink. My friend quickly glanced at the wine list and ordered a Malbec; however, the waiter politely explained that the Malbec he chose was bottle only. I quickly ordered a Cabernet while he continued to look at the wine list. He had a blend. I can’t remember.
“Now where were we,” he asked. “She’s a paraplegic—.” But he cut me off and asked me to go back a little. I did. At some point he said terrific or something along those lines. I smiled and pushed on, but by now the waiter had returned. Once again I had to back up a few sentences. And I went on. And on. Five minutes or maybe longer. I kept waiting for another “terrific” but no such luck. I looked for an expression on his face or maybe a gesture, something that told me he liked it. I kept on. Nothing. I wasn’t done with the play at the time. In fact, I’d only written about twenty pages but I had plenty of ideas. The waiter returned. The food arrived. And I went home.
The next day I started to work on the play and I was bored out of my mind. I didn’t know why; so I put it aside. I tried every few days but nothing. Why? I realized that in order to explain the story to my friend I had made sense of it. I had to let some parts go in order to make it easier for him to understand. I had sucked the life out of the play in order to be able to discuss it. That night I had thrown away all those messy parts that make a play exciting and unpredictable. Now the play worked as melodrama. It wasn’t true to life. I became aware of this but being aware of it didn’t mean I could fix it. The play was now a straight arrow. I had talked the play right out of me.
It was at this time I learned that what attracted me to writing was mystery…the chase. What made me happy was that moment a character goes off the grid. When a character does something I had not thought of prior.
This doesn’t mean you can’t tell people the trigger for the play, but it’s dangerous to discuss the play itself while you are writing it. In making something clear for a friend to understand you are making it clear for yourself and that may be deadly. Proceed at your own risk.