Developing an uncanny character (a few thoughts on playwriting craft #2)

At the moment, I’m working with another playwright (although they might prefer to call themselves a theatre-maker) at the very beginnings of their project. It’s a privilege to be let in to somebody else’s first stirrings. 

Part of making any performance piece is character work – but the question is often, what kind of character work should we do? Working on two main characters, one character is easy to place precisely in history, and to figure out backstory that could contribute to the evolving plot. 

But try this stuff on the other character and she (the character, not the playwright) resists. It’s almost as if this character was not born in time. When we write in ways that differ from realism, this is a stumbling block that can deter us. 

What seemed to work, though, was finding a way into the emotional range of the character. What is she feeling? What is she doing when she is feeling this way? Who else is there? Picturing the character, mid action, gives the insights that we need to keep developing the piece. 

So, some gratuitous advice for the playwright with non naturalistic tendencies: find the emotions, find the picture of those emotions, and then keep asking and answering your own questions. You’ll discover more doing this than by filling out a biography spreadsheet.