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Miss Mary Rose – progress on the Battle of the Solent

on Jul5 2017

I’ve been very busy working on Mary Rose Unbroken.

Chronology

This week I’ve had to relook at the overall structure. I like to work in word tables, so that I can move section / scenes around really easily. But this leads me to some bizarre acts in chronology, and even though this piece intertwines two time periods, both still need to be chronological for it to work.

I’ve sat down and re-read one of my sources to check whether what I have ended up with is what I wanted it to be when I started. Needless to say, in my enthusiasm of combining timelines, I have gone awry. This has entailed a lot of fixing which has helped with deleting extra scenes.

Timing

I am aiming for a 60 min first act, 45 min second. At the moment my poor audiences’ bottoms will be falling to pieces. Both acts are way too long.

In order to help with time, I killed off a character this week. It’s a shame, I really liked her, but she added nothing to the story which couldn’t be worked in another way. She was light relief if you like. So she disappeared, as did her 1,000 words or so.

I find killing off characters quite stressful at times, and there have been more than one instance when I’ve had to go back to a previous draft and bring someone back to life.

Battles

Today I’ve been looking at the Battle of the Solent. This is where Mary Rose (spoiler alert) sinks. The scenes around this hadn’t worked for me, or others who have been privy,  so I’ve sat back and thought about what I could do instead. What I don’t want to end up with is a whole lot of people slumping to the floor with a giant aargh. It needed to be much more subtle, and given the number of people who lost their lives, moving.

Today I’ve used a description of the battle from the shore. Originally this was contained in a performance poem I wrote in 2013 (or thereabouts) when I was Henry, overseeing the day’s machinations. I loved the language and rhythm of the piece, but it was far too long for this new piece of theatre, and also, Henry has enough to say all ready. I’ve given the majority of it instead to Catherine Parr, his much younger wife of the time. I’m really happy for this solution at the moment. Tomorrow – who knows?

Check, check and check again

My final task of the day is to look at the blue highlighted sections throughout the piece. I leave markers where I need to go back to as, for example, I need something to pull the timelines together, I’m not sure of a fact, or the pace drops. I’m hoping to clean-up all the factual queries by the end of the day, which should give me a clear run tomorrow at writing a different battle sequence which needs more work (there’s a theme there!).

I also need to get my facts together as best I can as I have arranged for an expert eye to start fact checking for me, one of the original divers no less! More on that to come . . .

And, also today, I went for a lunchtime dip in the sea.

Boat in the solent

A calm July day on the Solent, perhaps similar to the day Mary Rose sunk?

Making your characters sing

on Jun13 2017

It’s been a good writing day today. I’ve been working through sections of my Mary Rose play asking questions of each scene. For example, what’s the point of this? Who is leading the action? Who is making a decision?

That’s quite difficult to do – the first time I did it for a piece of writing I nearly cried as I couldn’t answer myself. Now I know the questions are coming,  I am ruthless about cutting as I write, so theoretically the answers should come quicker.

But I was surprised today to find that the central story has moved to a secondary character, and not the character I thought it belonged too. So this means a whole night of pondering if I like this development, if I need to change it back, if I need to develop this further.

I think that this has happened because I’ve ignored my number one rule of having a tight plot structure before I started. Rules were meant to be broken right?

These characters though, they’re tricky.

I learnt today that two of them are distant cousins. I hadn’t seen that coming, but it explains their bickering. I also learnt my protagonist has a hobby that I hadn’t dreamt of, and my antagonist can make me cry. I think this means they’re working well.

How should you go about checking out that your characters work?

There’s no simple fix, and there’s also a million articles and blogs online that’ll offer advice.

Here are a couple of my check points which I’ve picked up from all over the internet, workshops and my own head:

  • Do they speak with their own words and pattern?
    (As in, they don’ all sound the same)
  • Do they have a life before and after the play?
    (Working out what they do at other times of the day gives you a better idea of who they are)
  • What would have happened to them today if this plot hadn’t dropped on top of them?
    (Are they the type of person who will create drama, or will drama find them?)
  • What do they value?
    (Do they hang out with people who tell the truth, or have money, or   . . . what?)
  • How do they respond to people who are not like them?
    (I forgive some people who annoy me, others I don’t. It’s to do with whether they ft into my value systems.)
  • Is their best friend more interesting than them?
    (I always felt the Harry Potter books would have been even better as a Hermione Granger or Ron Weasley series)
  • What happens if their sex is flipped, are they still believable?
    (This is a super technique to see if you’re writing stereotypical tosh. Trust me, it works. Make females male, and males female. Ouch.)
  • And finally, can their name change?
    (If it can’t, if they have to be that name, I know my job is done.)

Let me know if these are useful to you! And, once again, thank you Arts Council for making this happen!

 

 

 

Bringing time together

on Jun7 2017
Struggling with Mary Rose
I’ve been really struggling with the timeline for the play, and how to make that work. Originally I thought about the whole piece as Tudor, and then as contemporary, and then as act one being Tudor and act two contemporary, and then reversing that and then . . . I was exhausted.
 
I  watched a show recently which told one story in the first act, and then the truth in the second. I didn’t enjoy that structure as it felt – to me – that I had been manipulated too much. All writers manipulate their readers, and doesn’t a reader chose to be manipulated, isn’t that what they pick up a book for? It’s the same with shows – we want to be scared, or emotionally attached, or on the edge of our seats. The trick is entertaining your audience and taking them on that journey without them thinking that they have been manipulated – you don’t want them to be aware in the moments of experiencing the work, of the writer.
 
It is so complex, and while it would be simpler to choose one time period and work within it, I can’t help myself needing to use two. At the moment I am going for interlinking both. I’m excited by the conservation, I’m excited by the build. All I need to do is to bring them together with cunning dexterity.
Ha!
(On the plus side, there’re some absolutely cracking moments in there!)

Mary Rose Unbroken

on Feb15 2017

I am writing a play about the Mary Rose. This is exciting on so many levels, not only because it’s a new play (yah!), but also because it’s Arts Council funded, and I get to wear my history nerd hat all the time!

Research process

At the moment I am at the very beginning of the process. This is the research phase. This means that I spend time in the Mary Rose Museum, delving into the exhibits, and also viewing the Mary Rose. It’s a truly wonderful place. A little dark (that’s to protect the exhibits) and full of mystery. You can’t help wondering who it was that held the spoon, or sat on a stool, who practiced with the long bows.

The museum has a wonderful selection of volunteers whose knowledge is a rich seam that I intend to mine. Already one of the volunteers has showed me her favourite exhibit, the anti-boarding netting which covered so much of the deck. Although only a small remnant remains, it is thought to have helped to cause the deaths of so many sailors on board.

How you can get involved

One of the wonderful aspects of receiving a research and development grant is that I can spend time deciding what the final piece will look like. That means I am really keen to hear your thoughts too. Tell me your impressions of Mary Rose, share your favourite stories, let me know what fascinates you. Let’s go on this unique journey together, and who knows if you’ll hear your words being uttered on stage.

Keep in touch

Find out more specifically about the project by connecting with Mary Rose Unbroken on facebook and / or instagram.

To get back to my website, click on Zella Compton.

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