role-play (chapter 31, part 2)

(image courtesy ElegantSpoon aka Michael)

I wish I were an actor.  I think it might make me a better writer.  I’d role-play my characters to get to know them better.  I’d understand them viscerally, from the inside.  

My story is about a writer who adapts the victorian novel The Awakening by Kate Chopin into a screenplay, sells it, and then falls into a relationship with the actress who’ll play the lead.  Or maybe it’s about a starlet who hires a writer to help prepare for a role and  ghostwrite her autobiography.  Who decides what happens? Who’s in charge, the actor or the writer?  Who’s the main character?   Whose version of reality will prevail?  

The other night I woke up in the wee hours with the thought that my novel should have been a screenplay.  I’ve never even read a screenplay.  

Did you ever perform on stage?  Are you the type to play the lead, sing in the chorus, hide backstage, or sit in the audience?  

*

She thought about the words no one will ever read.  They formed an emptiness that kept pulling her like a tongue to a cavity because Drew couldn’t stop thinking about her mother’s suicide note.  She replayed over and over again the scene of the paper slipping into the bath water and dissolving into a wad of pulpy pink matter.  

Drew told Dr. Robinson that she felt like everything would make sense if she could only read the note.  

“Perhaps you should try writing one for her,” Dr. Robinson said. “That might give you some closure.”

“I knew you’d say that. I already tried.” She had fired up the Mac Plus and sat poised over the keys, staring at her fingers while the machine slowly hummed to life. “I couldn’t do it.”

“What would you want her to tell you?”

“I just want to know why.”

“Okay. Let’s do a little enactment.” Dr. Robinson pointed to the love seat. “Pretend she’s sitting right there.” 

“Oh, I don’t think so.” Drew scowled at the leather upholstery and picked a scab on her chin. “I’m not really the improv type.”

“Just give it a go. You never know until you try.”

“If you insist.”  Drew faced the sofa, underarms are already slick with embarrassment.  “But it’s not going to work.”

“First, close your eyes and picture her face.”

“Fine.” Drew closed her eyes and summoned her mother, profile etched like a cameo, sitting there in her red chenille bathrobe, hair loose and tangled, absorbed in the task of filing her nails. How young her mother looked without makeup; even as a child Drew could recognize the porcelain fragility of that naked face. 

“Now ask her.” 

“Okay.”  Drew took a deep breath. “Why did you have to do that?  Why not just leave if you were so unhappy?” She expected to hear ennui or petulance or anger but instead, her voice was a thin whine.  

Dr. Robinson instructed her to sit on the sofa and picture herself in the chair.  She saw herself–cross-legged, braless under her silk blouse, hair piled up and held in a loose bun with two sharp ticonderogas, tattoo just visible under the hem of her frayed cut-offs–needy and slightly derelict, an obvious mess.  Again, Drew blushed with embarrassment.  “I don’t think I can do this.”  

Dr. Robinson ignored her. “Answer Drew’s question.”

“I don’t know why.  This is stupid. If I knew, I’d know.”  

Dr. Robinson waited calmly for Drew to continue.  

Drew closed her eyes again and said,  “Because I was depressed.  Or disappointed.  Maybe I was just bored.”

“Say more.  Get into her head.”

In Drew’s mind, the details grew hard edges–how the school bus would let her off at the corner and she’d walk slowly over the brown, crunchy snow and up the walk to their little house with its curtains pulled shut.  Going home was as inescapable as being sucked down a drain and inside, under the fluorescent light, into that perpetually damp air that had been exhaled so many times it smelled like breath, where she’d leave her boots on a newspaper spread across the linoleum and walk down the dark hallway into the musty den and settle into a seat like a stone.

Only this time, Drew took the battered orange chair in front of the television and turned to face her daughter.  

“It’s like being a fly stuck in an ice cube,” she explained.  “I thought life was going to get bigger but it didn’t. Things just got smaller and smaller until there was nowhere else to go.  I kept waiting for a door to open but it never did. I just got tired of waiting.” 

It was stated as plain truth; no need to cry about it.  

Dr. Robinson said, “What do you want to tell your daughter?”

Drew took a deep breath. “Don’t let yourself get frozen. Find happiness.”  

“What else does Drew need to know?”

Drew remembered herself a child with those hungry eyes.  Adoring eyes, turned up toward the sky waiting for to the love to rain down.  

“That I love her.  I loved her.”  The tears fall in sheets. “I always, always loved her.  My love was always there, just under the surface.  I’m so sorry it wasn’t enough.”

Dr. Robinson nudged the box of tissue toward Drew.   “What else needs to be said?”

The wave peaked and subsided.  Drew smiled and shook her head. “She has nothing else to tell me.  Her death had nothing to do with me at all.”  She laughed  and rubbed her cheeks with a tissue.  “Nothing at all!” 

Good,” said Dr. Robinson. “How do you feel?”

“I think I’m fine.”  Drew sniffed. “I think I feel much better.”

 

About girl in the hat

aka Anna Fonté, writer of novels, short stories, personal essays, and bits about the neighborhood crows. The things I write want you to look at them.

37 comments

  1. I have to read the rest of this chapter later because I shouldn’t even be on the computer now, but I wanted to let you know that I’ve wanted to write a script, too, but the screenplay feature in my wordprocessing program mystifies (scares) me. I don’t quite get it. Maybe you can find a sample script online somewhere and see what you think. Just by mentioning it, you’ve got me looking at your story in a new way, too.

    Also, I could never be an actress because I can’t memorize lines to save my life. I tried that in a summer workshop at age fifteen and was traumatized for life during the free form play we put on at the end. I definitely need to stay in the audience. :)

    I’ll be back later.

    • WordPressing features are beyond me. Maybe I’ll look for a good script to use as a model.
      Anyone out there know of a good script to read to see how it’s done?
      I think I’m standing backstage with a script and a hammer in case something comes loose.

  2. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that you suggested this as a screenplay or not, but reading this scene, I could see it, you know what I mean? The setting is nice, you can see the movement, the dialogue flows. I have a friend who’s a screenwriter, she made the leap from print to film and she said the only difficult part was scaling back.

    I’m an actress… sign up for a creative drama class. It’s good to get on your feet as an artist, whether you claim to be an actress or not.

    Wonderful scene by the way.

  3. “It’s like being a fly stuck in an ice cube,” she explained. “I thought life was going to get bigger but it didn’t. Things just got smaller and smaller until there was nowhere else to go. I kept waiting for a door to open but it never did. I just got tired of waiting.”

    love that bit

  4. gailytr

    i have always thought of you work as a film or a play

  5. Love the ice cube bit and especiially how it sets you up for, “Don’t let yourself get frozen.” I hear Catherine Keener’s voice, Anna, clear as a freakin’ bell.

  6. umm…is this Drew character borrowing from my life? seriously, i’ve been in that very session. (i’ve had all my parents in that other chair!!) it’s like you were there.

    this is so well put together and i could see it as a scene for sure. if you type in “wes anderson scripts” at amazon, there are paperback copies of different movies of his you can purchase…royal tenenbaums, rushmore, etc. i only know this because i saw the screenplay in paperback in the chicago midway bookstore and did a search to see if there were other films of his as well you could buy. (i’m a big wes anderson fan–i’m sure there are other writer/director screenplays easily accessible.)

    • Well that was easy. Why did I think it was going to be hard? I guess I’m a luddite at heart, thanks for the nudge, Josey. I just went to AbeBooks and ordered three screenplays by Charlie Kaufman, my favorite. This should be fun….

  7. I loved this. Its a great scene…

  8. Anna, if you do decide to write a screenplay; FYI – they are ALL written via a program called Final Draft (current edition FD 8 ) there are a variety of examples of screenplays, and/or TV teleplays on-line. you’d prolly write a good one too. continue…

    • Have you ever written one, Tony? (Excuse me if I should have known this already.) And is there some reason why you have to use this program? (The luddite in me whines like an old bitch.)

  9. Did you ever perform on stage? Are you the type to play the lead, sing in the chorus, hide backstage, or sit in the audience?
    I’ve never acted, but I find that when I do a reading I tend to adopt the personalities of the characters in the story to a certain extent. Audience reaction gives me a hint as to how well the character is working and sometimes helps me revise.

  10. Anna, I’ve just come back and read this. I’ve always liked your writing style and the way you turn a phrase, and this is no different. After that, the main thing I thought was that it seemed to go too fast for the subject. Drew begins here still needing to know why her mother committed suicide and feeling that the not knowing (knowing the words in the note) was forming an emptiness inside her. But after starting the exercise, she chooses boredom as her mother’s reason and soon feels much better. Drew has never struck me as a person who could be so easily calmed if she was upset about something. It’s also hard for me to believe a daughter would accept being left for that reason, at least not without a fight.

    After Drew, I think of all the women I’ve heard speak of losing their mothers in childhood for whatever reason. It seems to mark them for life even if they do get past it and find fullfillment and stability. And those are women who knew their mothers loved them. Then there are women like me who eventually do understand that their mothers’ reasons for being distant or even cruel weren’t about anything we did, but were about who they were, but some of the pain still comes back when something reminds us that all mothers aren’t like that.

    The only thing that evens out my feelings about my mother is knowing that she was probably depressed. That’s a mental condition she couldn’t help. If I thought about her behavior in terms of her being bored, that would make me feel insulted and sad, among other things. I’d really want to punch something.

    I’m sure you could get this to a point where I’d believe Drew got to the feelings you describe, but taking into account my own experiences in therapy, I think it would take a few more sessions and a lot of crying, or at least anger, before Drew would get to that last sentence and mean it.

    If this part is based on something you know of that did happen exactly this way, then you’ve run into something that has vexed me over and over again in my own writing. I’m trying to learn how to tell the essence of the truth by making up whatever I need to to get the reader to come along with me. I’ve been finding out the hard way that if I tell something exactly as it happened, my readers don’t always see what I see.

    I do like the way you describe things here. The images work for me as bits and pieces, but just don’t add up for me to the ending you came to.

    • Re–
      Thank you so, so much.
      As usual, your comments are very insightful and make me take myself more seriously.
      I get so deep in the idea of things I forget about everything else.
      I have tweaked some things. And added tears. Maybe I’ll have to rethink the whole ending.
      I’m full of gratitude to you for shining your spotlight on my writing and helping me see it.
      xoox

      • Wow, Anna … I can’t be sure of every word you added, but I feel like I’m reading it properly now, as if I read it wrong in the first place. (I feel like I should apologize — I’m sorry!)

        Now I see Drew trying to come to terms with the suicide, and her therapist guiding her, helping her focus on what she knows as a woman. And because Drew knows (perhaps every woman knows), the understanding makes her feel better. Through her empathy, she gets the message about not letting herself get frozen and it helps her process what her mother did, helps her feel better. I see the arc now. This is about Drew and I didn’t find my mind drifting off to anyone else’s experience. It’s beautiful.

  11. I could never never be on stage. I’m a backstage gal all the way, the one keeping meticulous track of cues and pushing the actors out onto the stage.

  12. “the musty den and settle into a seat like a stone.” Yes, she knows boredom and emptiness – and probable recognized both in her mother – which is why she accepted that excuse from her mother and felt better.
    She KNOWS it – feels it,too – oppressive in the house. “as inescapable as being sucked down a drain and inside, under the fluorescent light,” It makes sense. She” feels better” – but as far as being “fine” – probably lying to herself
    You are an excellent writer.

  13. (31B) 2&4&12B&24 9 (31A?) 29D 29A 29C 27C 26B 18A 14B 22 12A 18B 26A 20B&7&16A&16B
    14A 15A&15B 11 23C 3B 3A 19A&19B 29B 28&13&27A&23A&23B&21A&21B 20A 6 10 21C 25A&25B&8&17A&17B&5&1

    Perfect termination of the the Drew’s Mother Subplot – Perfect – every word made since – the essence of life’s dissipointments – at least as I have felt them, is so perfectly captured that I honestly can’t think of any other
    way to tie this up – Could it be that drew has always known her mother committed suicide on a subconsious
    level – could this explain her desire to work with the Awakening? Perhaps her fixation on this book and it’s
    heroin, has allowed her to understand her mother on a level that is – unprecidented-?

    Perhaps what she was really doing all this time was not writing a screen play – not making a movie -
    so much as comming to terms with her mother? Even Mea Becon seemed to feel Drew had some
    kind of connection to the woman She was going to protray – It’s that perfect understanding of why.
    Life is thrust upon us – against our will – It promises everything – and often delivers nothing – perhaps
    we should not be so quick to judge – or so hesitant to forgive – gold my friend – pure gold. :D

    • I’m glad to know it came together at the end. I’ve been taking a break from it for a couple months, hoping to get a fresh eye so that my last edit will matter. You said you didn’t want to look at your 120,000 word fantasy again, even though they are going to publish it? I also don’t want to look at WWWD again, but for different reasons, partially because no one wants to publish it. But I do know what you mean about not wanting to look back and glad for the news that this ending works. Thank you for reading!

  14. The Fantasy in question is – only 12,000 words – I may have mistyped -
    I wrote it especially for this particular publisher in hopes of getting their attention.
    If they use it I’m looking at 8% of net profits in royalties and a limited readership –
    so it won’t be a big thing even if I do sign the contract. (A Lawyer friend is looking
    at it.) No one has excepted me before so the matter is both Auspicious and
    Suspicious. I felt a smaller company would notice me and it looks like they
    did. I wrote the thing a mounth ago, extending a small flash fiction I had
    started.

    Mind Wings wants works at around 7,800 to 11,000 words, to be read by actors
    as audio files to be sold as Mp3′s. It is possible to turn large works into serials -
    an author I’ve read about has a mystery series published – last time I checked
    there were not many titles available on their website – just a hint if you have any
    short peices lieing around -

  15. What I like about a screenplay over a play, is that you can pick the audience up and drop/dump them into to any situation, frame, or angle, and say enjoy the ride or view, and or see if you can get out of this position your in now. Where with the stage, it relies on slight of hand as all seems to be visible, but is just the illusion you feel sitting in the audience. So different skills between the pair will explore a myriad of possible entrapment potentials with in an audience. But it all come down to what your head want to show them..

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