It was only afterwards I could see the irony. I was re-writing a scene in which a young comedienne tries to break through an elderly woman’s reserve in order to get her to write better jokes. It was based on a previously written scene in which a male character had tried to do the same thing. It felt lumpen. Passionless. Writing by rote. It reminded me of a time when I had very much enjoyed writing because I would just write whatever came into my head. Very cute. But not much use.
I edited what was written down and it looked empty and characterless.
Then, the comedienne decided to clear the tea things. Lift a small table out over her head. It began to start. The writing became fuller, the characters interacted.
What she is trying to teach the old woman is what I learnt in comedy many years ago. Get to the emotion, the rest will look after itself – there is nothing funnier than anger about inconsequential things. And now I find it underlies the way in which I write.
The unexpected thing for me is that I haven’t had to completely change the idea, just allow the main character to take over and handle it in her own way. To paraphrase Merce Cunningham, rather than say no, say yes, and find a way to do something.
So, a writer who is trying to write a scene in which a young woman tries to break through an elderly woman’s reserve, has to break through his own reserve in order to write better writing. I’m sure there’s a joke here somewhere.
(With thanks to Jodie Cole for the quote.)