I know, it’s Saturday, and we don’t have any assignments from the Jeff Goins writing boot camp today, but I’m actually writing this last night (as it were) because I just couldn’t not.
I watched Finding Neverland again, you see. That film makes me cry – no, sob – every time.
The writing is beautiful, for a start:
‘Just’? What a horrible, candle-snuffing word.
The music is perfect, the direction inspired and the acting outstanding, especially by stunning little Freddie Highmore who steals every scene he’s in – no mean feat when acting alongside the likes of Johnny Depp at the height of his brilliance.
But it’s the story, the magic, the worlds created that simply snag my heart and make me yearn for such imagination and adventure for myself.
In case you don’t know the film, it’s the slightly fictionalised story of how JM Barrie wrote Peter Pan. It begins on the opening night of Mr Barrie’s new play. The theatre is a-buzz, the audience a-glitter with diamonds and anticipation, and behind a plush, red curtain we find Mr Barrie himself, pacing, peeking, tapping his cane nervously on the floor…and I’m hooked right there and then.
I realised tonight, watching it, that that’s why I want to write plays – there’s an immediacy about their performance that you don’t get with any other kind of writing.
For a start, you’ve entrusted your words to Others to interpret. Of course, you do that with every form of writing, but a book or an article or a blog post is just between you and your reader. External factors count a bit, but when you get right down to it, they ‘hear’ your words entirely through their own filters. With a play, they’ve gone through multiple filters long before the curtain goes up. The way the director has interpreted and the actor has conveyed this, and his own interpretation may take it a million miles from your intended inflection and emphasis. Which might, of course, make it a million times better than you alone could have achieved, but might make it much worse.
Then, you get to hear and see and feel everyone’s immediate, instinctive reaction to the play. If they laugh at the right moment, your spirit soars. If they gasp at what you hoped would be a surprise, or sit in tense silence during your dramatic climax, you know you have woven your spell, and the sense of triumph is something I’ve never seen paralleled – except perhaps when watching a closely-fought tennis match or football game. Yes, having your play work is like winning Wimbledon.
And yet not, because while winning Wimbledon is an amazing achievement it is one which is gone in a moment. Winning Wimbledon means doing an existing thing – playing tennis – better than anyone else. Writing a play means conjuring up a whole world, just through the power of words, and seeing people inhabit it, respond to it and, if you’re really successful, be changed by it.
You can do that with a novel, too, but you don’t get to be in the room with 500 people inhabiting the world together with a novel. You can do it with a film, but after the première there’s never again the sense of adventure – will it work tonight? Will they believe it tonight? Will the magic be there this time round?
I want to write novels, because people read novels, and re-read them, and pass them on. I’d love to write movies, because lots of people watch movies, and they certainly get watched and watched and re-watched and discussed. But most of all I want to write plays, because even if they only get watched once, by a small group of people, who never mention it to another soul, there is still something magical about a play.
I want to pluck a world from the air and see it come alive on stage. I know I’ll spend the opening night pacing and peeking and panicking behind a plush, red curtain somewhere, but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
I hope I’ll see you there.