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Vivat Regina character arc previews – Mrs. Hawking

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As I’ve said, the best opportunity afford to us by telling the Mrs. Hawking story as a serial is the chance to show the characters develop. Here’s a glimpse into what journeys you can look forward to from our returning characters.

Our hero Mrs. Hawking makes a particular challenge in this department, one that her actor, Frances Kimpel, and I are excited to take on. It’s that the nature of her character means we must balance her resistance to change with a need for real forward movement. It’s part of who she is that she grows slowly, being too stuck in old resentments, but every story has to bring her growth in a way that is true to her character but also emerges genuinely from the circumstances.

Frances Kimpel as Mrs. Hawking

Frances Kimpel as Mrs. Hawking

Vivat Regina begins after Mrs. Hawking has taken a very major step, implied by the end of the previous story— finally, she is letting another person into her work, her life, her world. Mary has proved her worthiness in her mistress’s eyes, and that has been enough to convince Mrs. Hawking to open herself up to not only a working relationship, but an actual close human relationship. Mary has become not only her assistant, but her real friend. For our closed-off, lone-wolf protagonist, that is huge, and represented real growth on her part.

But exposing her secrets and her true self to someone is scary, especially to someone like her. And when Mrs. Hawking feels scared or vulnerable, her reaction is to try and bring the situation at hand as much under her control as humanly possible— in this case, Mary’s progress as a fellow society avenger. She’s been willing to allow Mary to take part, to train her to effectively help in her superhero work, but true trust has yet to follow. Any mistake Mary makes may be natural since she’s just learning, but to Mrs. Hawking, any imperfection could bring upon discovery, failure, ruin. So she’s very hard on Mary, offering plenty of criticism but little praise, obsessed with the fear that relying on someone other than herself could wreck everything she’s built if that other person isn’t equal to the task.

2.3. "No, madam. What would you have done?"

2.3. “No, madam. What would you have done?”

A defining characteristic of Mrs. Hawking is her anger, one of her major motivating factors. Her rage at the way the world would trap her into a role that doesn’t fit her drives her to the extraordinary lengths demanded by her work. I think this is one of the most important and noteworthy features about her. It isn’t often that a female character gets to be consistently angry and control the room around them with their difficult behavior. Vivat Regina will show a lot of it come out in the way Mrs. Hawking deals with Mary as she struggles to learn the trade.

Mary and Nathaniel understand this about her, and to some degree accept it. But to have the people around her endlessly validate and make allowances for that kind of behavior neutralizes the conflict. It does not drive Mrs. Hawking to grow or change in any way, and it’s simply not believable that people would endlessly put up with her. So in the course of Vivat Regina, we will see Mrs. Hawking be challenged on these things— her difficulty getting along with others, her lack of trust, her ceaseless criticism, and the hard way her rage makes her behave. So we will see the lone wolf have to adapt to taking other people into consideration for the first time. And if she’s going to be a mentor and the leader of a team, well, she’s going to learn how to mentor and lead.

Striking the right balance of being true to her unique character, while still delivering believable growth before the audience, will be a difficult task. But that is what will make this narrative truly rich, and worth sticking around for more than one installment. You’ll have to come see the show to know how Frances and I manage it!

Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina will be performed on May 7th as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2016 in Waltham, MA.

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Greater scope of character development across two shows

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The most exciting thing about doing serial theater at Arisia 2016 is the ability to show the characters grow and change over the course of multiple stories. This development is one of the most engaging things to present for an audience. When we develop an interest in and an affection for characters, we love to track the progress of their personal journeys. Narrative demands growth and change, which of course we’re familiar with seeing over the course of a single play, but with our attempt at serial theater, we’ve got the chance to give the audience a greater scope of character growth then they’ve ever seen onstage before.

This presents an interesting, and in many cases unique, challenge for our actors. With the lion’s share of their experience being in theater, they have not had the chance to play the same character in more than one story. When they reprise Mrs. Hawking, the first play, they recreate the characters’ original journeys that they are already familiar with. However, at the same time, they must start Vivat Regina’s rehearsal process from the place their character ended in Mrs. Hawking.

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Early rehearsal for Vivat Regina at Arisia 2016, with Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Nathaniel and Isabel Dollar as Frau Gerhard.

So, for example, Jeremiah O’Sullivan, our returning actor playing Nathaniel, must recall where the character begins at the start of Mrs. Hawking, and show him develop into the man he is changed into by the events of that play— with a growing awareness of the ways the world fails people less privileged than he, and a determination to do better. Then, going into Vivat Regina, Jeremiah must incorporate those changes as his starting point for Nathaniel for the next play— and then grow further from there!

It’s imperative that the audience is able to see the characters progress every time we see them. This is how we will engage people for the long haul. We’re hoping to not only tell two Mrs. Hawking stories, but three and four and more– an entire series! It is investment in the characters that will keep people along for the ride— that desire to see where they’re going.

And I love the artistic opportunity it presents for us. Serial theater is something that is rarely attempted, so it’s an experience that few theater actors ever get to take on. I can’t wait to see how our fabulous cast is going to tackle it.

Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina will be performed on May 7th as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2016 in Waltham, MA.

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Cast and crew for Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina at Arisia 2016

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For our double-header performance at Arisia 2016, we needed a serious cast and crew! I’m happy to say we’ve found them. For the two plays, we are very lucky to have many actors returning from previous performances and iterations of the Mrs. Hawking stories.

1.1. "I would not have left England for this dreary place, but I suppose there are some circumstances that can't be helped."

For Mrs. Hawking, our first installment, the majority of the cast is a veteran from a previous full production, whether our original at Arisia 2015 or the encore at the Watch City Steampunk Festival later that year. This gives us a great advantage in producing this time around, as most of the cast already know their roles well and won’t require a ton of work to whip the show into shape.

Mrs. Hawking
Cast

Mrs. Victoria Hawking – Frances Kimpel
Miss Mary Stone – Circe Rowan
Mr. Nathaniel Hawking – Jeremiah O’Sullivan
Mrs. Celeste Fairmont – Arielle Kaplan
Lord Cedric Brockton – Francis Hauert
Sir Walter Grainger – Jordan Greeley
Mr. John Colchester – Andrew Prentice
Miss Grace Monroe – Jennifer Giorno
Ensemble – Joye Thaller, Chris Denmead

As for Vivat Regina, we have of course our three leads played by the same actors as they will be in Mrs. Hawking– Frances Kimpel, Circe Rowan, and Jeremiah O’Sullivan. But much of the additional cast are veterans of the Vivat Regina staged reading, with Joye Thaller, Samantha LeVangie, and Matthew Kamm all reprising the roles they read. While this will be an entirely new rehearsal process, it’s a great blessing to work with actors who know their characters so well.

Vivat Regina
Cast

Mrs. Victoria Hawking – Frances Kimpel
Miss Mary Stone – Circe Rowan
Mr. Nathaniel Hawking – Jeremiah O’Sullivan
Mrs. Johanna Braun – Joye Thaller
Mrs. Clara Hawking – Samantha LeVangie
Constable Arthur Swann – Matthew Kamm
Frau Kirsten Gerhard – Isabella Dollar
Ensemble – Chris Denmead, Tegan Kehoe, Sara Dion

And of course there’d be no show without the crew. The talented technical artists who helped bring Mrs. Hawking to life previously will be returning to bring the same magic to Vivat Regina.

Crew

Director – Phoebe Roberts
Technical Director – Bernie Gabin
Costume Designer – Jennifer Giorno
Sound Designer – Neil Marsh
Violence Designer – Arielle Kaplan
Run Crew – Eboracum Richter-Dahl

We are becoming quite the little troupe! Any theater project, not to mention any one so large and experimental as serialized live shows, requires a lot of great people to bring together. I am so honored to have so many talented people signing onto the project. Watch this space to see everything they bring to the process!

Mrs. Hawking by Phoebe Roberts will be performed January 15th at 8PM and January 16th at 4PM and Vivat Regina by Phoebe Roberts January 17th at 1PM at the Westin Waterfront Hotel as part of Arisia 2016.

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PERFORMANCE ANNOUNCEMENT: MRS. HAWKING and VIVAT REGINA to go up at Arisia 2016!

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We are officially announcing it! The first two shows in our series, MRS. HAWKING and VIVAT REGINA, will be performed in the course of events at Arisia 2016!

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Mrs. Hawking is returning to the event where she saw her performance debut, but this time, she’s going even further. This marks the beginning of an exciting experiment in actually producing serialized theater. One rarely sees live performances that build upon what happened in the course of a previous story. But the Mrs. Hawking series, with its ongoing plot and characters, is breaking down that barrier.

We will be putting together and rehearsing the two shows in tandem with each other, creating a consistent through line of narrative and character development for the audience to enjoy. We have assembled two excellent casts, with some new and some returning actors, to populate the world, including the recurrence of our three leads, Mrs. Hawking, Mary, and Nathaniel. This will afford the audience the rare chance to see live storytelling with greater scope of character development than just a single plot can allow.

It’s going to present some new and interesting challenges, and will involve some figuring things out as we go. But the chance to show a continuing theatrical story, where characters grow, develop, and change based on events that happen before the audience’s very eyes, is too exciting to pass up.

Come join us for this unprecedented event in live storytelling, and see where our heroes journey will take them on the next step!

Mrs. Hawking by Phoebe Roberts will be performed January 15th at 8PM and January 16th at 4PM and Vivat Regina by Phoebe Roberts January 17th at 1PM at the Westin Waterfront Hotel as part of Arisia 2016.

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Auditions for the Mrs. Hawking plays at Arisia 2016

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The Chameleon’s Dish Theatre will be auditioning for the upcoming performances of the Mrs. Hawking plays, an experiment in serial theater– a steampunk series of asking what if Sherlock Holmes were more like a lady Batman?

Mrs. Hawking debuted to success with two productions over the course of 2015, and will have an encore performances of plays in the series as part of Arisia, a major science fiction and fantasy convention in downton Boston in January 2016. This is a continuing series, so there is opportunity for reprising the role at a later date in an additional run, though no commitment is required beyond this January 2016 production.

There will also a small monetary honorarium paid to selected actors upon completion of the show’s run.

Some of the previous cast is returning but the rest will be replaced. We are looking for the following types for lead and supporting roles:

Women, late twenties to late forties, German accent.
Women, late twenties to early thirties, English accent.
Men, late twenties to early thirties, English accent.
Men, late twenties to early thirties, Cockney accent.
Men, late thirties to late forties, English accent.
Nonspeaking ensemble roles of any gender and age.

PERFORMANCE INFORMATION
Weekend of January 15th-17th
At the Westin Waterfront Boston hotel in downtown Boston, MA

REHEARSAL INFORMATION
Rehearsals begin halfway into October leading up to the performance dates in January, depending on the play or plays in which you are cast. There will be time off for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. Rehearsals will happen mostly in the Porter Square area of Cambridge, with some in the Brandeis/downtown Waltham area.

AUDITION INFORMATION
Auditions will be held on three separate dates at different locations:

Monday, October 5th form 7-9PM
At the Watertown Public Library in the Raya Sterns Trustees room
123 Main Street, Watertown, Massachusetts 02472

Friday, October 9th from 7-10PM
At Lesley University, Doble Campus in Doble 209
29 Everett St, Cambridge, MA 02138

Auditions will consist of reading from sides from the script. English and/or German accents required.

Please make an appointment. Walk-ins are welcome, but to guarantee your slot please send an email to mrshawkingweb@gmail.com with your headshot and resume to reserve a time.

If you would like to audition but are unable to make these appointed times, please e-mail anyway and arrange alternate accomodations.

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Hawking continuity nods in Base Instruments

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As I edit Base Instruments for its intended release on this website, I’m working to keep in mind a goal I have for at least this first Hawking trilogy— to both build on previous storytelling with each installment, and to make certain that each piece serves as a good standalone story. While I love all the advantages serialization confers, I want to ensure anyone seeing these plays in isolation from each other can still enjoy them for their individual stories, without necessarily needing all the backstory.

Still, continuity is a fun aspect for familiar fans. As I go through this third play, I’ve tried to incorporate nods to the Hawking history and backstory without making it too necessary to understand them in order to grasp the whole piece. They’ll add richness and dimension without shutting out new fans. Here’s some of the little continuity mentions you can expect to see in Base Instruments:

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MARY: Good evening, Constable Swann.

ARTHUR: It’s Sergeant now, matter of fact.

MARY: Really! I suppose it’s been a while.

ARTHUR: It has, and shame on you. Who knows what trouble I might have come into without you to swing that poker and watch my back? Could you bear that on your conscience?

This is a reference to the second story, Vivat Regina, and to how Arthur and Mary first meet— she defended him in a street fight from a ruffian with a well-timed blow from her trusty fireplace poker. His offhand joking about it here shows us that he respects Mary’s capability, and that he wishes he could see more of her.

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NATHANIEL: Nearly ready now. I’ve been in meetings all day, or I should have had Chapman bring my tails by the office. He about burst a button when I told him I’d be dressing here.

MRS. HAWKING: I don’t know why, it isn’t as if I come to the door.

Here Nathaniel makes mention of Henry Chapman, who appears in the ten minute play Like a Loss, wherein we learned he was the Colonel’s valet who always disapproved of his relationship with Mrs. Hawking. After the Colonel’s death, straightaway Mrs. Hawking gave Chapman his walking papers. Nathaniel took him on to smooth things over, and Chapman’s worked as his valet since then, but it did nothing to decrease his resentment of Mrs. Hawking over the years. This mention here shows the trouble our hero has fitting in with the rest of the Hawking family.

Jeremiah O'Sullivan as Nathaniel

NATHANIEL: It was the right thing to do.

CLARA: The right thing? Playing at hero? It’s the way of men, isn’t it, marching off to war when duty calls. But you’re not a soldier, Nathaniel. Your year at Newcastle should have taught you that.

Here Clara is referencing Nathaniel’s brief period where he enlisted in the service, as we learned in Vivat Regina, in an effort to emulate his hero the Colonel. But rather than finding grand adventures, his experience in finance saw him assigned to keeping accounts at the naval base. It had the result of driving home that martial work was not where Nathaniel’s talents lie. In Base Instruments, we see Nathaniel cultivating his abilities as a faceman instead.

1.4. "Please... let me help you."

CLARA: Women talk, you know. I must have heard it a half-dozen times now. That, if a respectable lady found herself in some trouble, there was a… they called it a society avenger. A lady’s champion of London. I’m not sure I ever believed it. But look here. Not only real, but my own queer old Aunt Victoria.

This isn’t so much a continuity nod as a Mythology Gag. This is the first time anyone has described Mrs. Hawking as “lady’s champion of London” in the text of a piece, which is how we tend to describe her in supplementary materials like this website. Bringing it in here alludes to how Clara is plugged into the information found in polite conversation and the kind of chats otherwise dismissed as gossip. Surprisingly to our heroes, she has a remarkable power to learn things because of her connections and observant nature.

MARY: So you’re the cleverest person there is, then?

MRS. HAWKING: Hardly. I was nursemaided by cleverer than myself. It’s all in what use you make of it.

And this last is the subtlest reference of all, not so much an allusion to the previous stories but more of a foreshadowing of story to come. This reference is to a figure from Mrs. Hawking’s past, one of the people from whom she learned some of her most important skills and tricks, who will feature again in Mrs. Hawking’s life to come.

All of these things will wash over the casual viewer. But I think making reference to the wider story enriches the world in which it takes place, not to mention rewarding fans who are following things as they unfold.

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Finished draft of Base Instruments!

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I am pleased to announce that Base Instruments, part three of the Mrs. Hawking series, has a complete draft!

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I had some friends over to read it, as I love to do when evaluating a play, and the response was great. Now I have a direction for the edit! Thanks to Jane Becker, Charlotte Brewer, Matthew Kamm, Tegan Kehoe, and Samantha LeVangie for their great feedback! The stuff I need to fix isn’t huge, fortunately, but it will require some deft tweaking in order to improve, and that level of subtlety will be challenging. And hearing the whole piece together means I learned some interesting things about this new installment of the story.

Jeremiah O'Sullivan as Nathaniel

Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Nathaniel

Base Instruments turned out to be very much Nathaniel’s play. It wasn’t exactly intentional, but with so many of his close family members featuring, it was only natural that he would end up being the most central character. Even though I want the series to mostly belong to Mary and Mrs. Hawking, it became clear in the writing of the previous two plays that Nathaniel was going to serve as the third lead. And since those first two dealt with the two of them primarily, it was all right if Nathaniel came to the forefront by piece three. Not only does he have the most stage time, his arc plays out with more characters than anyone else’s. I like to think he’s getting really developed.

Justin, Nathaniel’s brother, proved to be very charismatic, as I hoped he would be! Similarly to Clara in Vivat Regina, he was the cool new character Base Instruments added to the cast. I’ve become very devoted to the idea that these pieces need comic relief to balance the drama, and both he and Clara brought some of the lightest moments of wit and humor. I don’t know how often he’ll be able to come back, given the direction the series will take from here, but it will be a real shame if I don’t figure out how to fit him in again.

In fact, the structure of the play changed in an interesting way because of the expansion of the world in this manner. While the two previous installments mostly just followed around Mrs. Hawking and Mary, mostly together, Base Instruments had enough threads going on that its scenes skip back and forth between them. It gives the story a breadth and texture, allowing a much more complex series of events to happen, with a more careful pacing as the threads break each other up. And frankly? It’s pretty damn cool that one of the most engaging scenes in the play happens between two secondary characters, one who’ve we’ve only just met in this piece. That can only be possible when the world and its dynamics are very rich.

My plan is to dig into the edit and get it done in the next few weeks. After that I’d like to have a second reading, to make sure the changes improved and tightened things. Then it will be posted here on the website, and I can truly say I’m completed the first trilogy in the Mrs. Hawking saga!

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“What if the Colonel did black ops?”

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As I mentioned in the entry on Early Installment Weirdness, it is common for your conception of who a character is and what they’re like to change the more you work with them. While a fair bit of this happened with the more central characters, particularly Mrs. Hawking herself, you know which person ended up changing the most in my mind? Everyone’s favorite Ghost Character, her late husband Colonel Reginald Prescott Hawking.

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Back when I was imagining Mrs. Hawking as more of a straight-up Sherlock Holmes type— more purely calculating, intellectual, and reserved —I imagined that it might be intriguing if her interior life was something of a black box. I thought it might be engaging if she remained largely inscrutable in her feelings and motivations, leaving the audience to guess from her actions alone. The Colonel, correspondingly, was even more opaque— a distant, detached figure who by virtue of his absence and Mrs. Hawking’s complete lack of interest in him would never be fully understood.

But I really could not stick to this view of them. As the Batman influence became more and more prominent, it became clear that Mrs. Hawking actually had LOTS of strong feelings and motivations, which no matter how much she kept bottling them always threatened to burst out. Maybe it’s a weakness on my part, but I found it much more satisfying to actively, obviously explore her inner life. And by that same token, it became much more interesting to me to make the Colonel a more complex, human figure.

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The first step of that was the devising of his central tragedy— that he really loved Victoria, and was incapable of understanding how that love managed to hurt her. And from there, all these things about him started to assert himself. He was actively excited to have a family with her, and when that was no longer possible he was extremely sad. He realized that she didn’t seem to want anything to do with him, and so decided removing the burden of his presence from her life would be the kindest thing he could do. A lot of people ask me how Mrs. Hawking managed to hide her society avenging work from him for twenty years. The answer to that is partially that he was away a lot, in his capacity as a prominent commander of the British empire. But because we made him more interesting, we found ourselves getting more interested in him. And that means now I wonder a lot about how he spent that time.

Bernie suggested he might have had cool adventures in his time abroad, perhaps serving in some elite capacity in special operations all across the empire. Maybe he led some kind of Howling Commandos-type special force. Who knows what sort of missions he could have run? And, seeing as they were in service to the engine of the British Empire, they might not all have been the most righteous causes. He’s a loyal soldier, but he’s not without moral understanding. How might the Colonel have felt about that?

It’s hard to bring this stuff into the story as we currently conceive of it. It’s Mrs. Hawking’s story above all, not the Colonel’s. But it certainly enriches thing to know what happened behind the scenes, even if we never completely tell the audience what it is. The little character moments it could inform could add so much dimension to our understanding of these people.

I had a vision of how maybe it was an old family legend among the Hawkings that the Colonel was once offered a knighthood and turned it down. Being the reserved person that he was, he never said why, or what for. Nathaniel would of course be fascinated by such a thing, and could ask Mrs. Hawking about it. But she would say she didn’t know why, because, to Nathaniel’s uncomprehending shock, she never asked. And a moment like that says a lot about all parties involved. A great little moment to reveal character.

Vivat Regina and Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts will be performed at 2PM and 6PM respectively at 274 Moody Street in Waltham, MA as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2017.

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Learning from Early Installment Weirdness

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There’s an interesting phenomenon that occurs when writing characters in a serialized story. You of course get to know them better the longer you work with them. But because your stories get completed at different stages of that development process, sometimes a finalized piece features a character in ways that aren’t part of the ultimate conception you have of them. This is often referred to as Early Installment Weirdness, to use the TV Tropes term— when the true nature of the story you’re telling evolves and solidifies in the process of telling it.

I’m pleased that we don’t have TOO much of this in Mrs. Hawking. But as I work on later installments, I do notice things in the original that I probably wouldn’t have included if I were writing it with the understanding I have now. Mrs. Hawking, for example, accepts the job from Mrs. Fairmont while allowing certain details of what’s going on to remain a secret. Vivat Regina shows that Mrs. Hawking will turn down jobs that she doesn’t believe to fit with her mission, so I don’t know if it’s totally her to take on a problem without all the facts. I guess it took some time to realize just how mean she was! Also, given her fierce distaste for interacting with people face to face, the fact that she’s so willing to take Mary’s suggestion to go in as guests at Brockton’s ball— as opposed to sneaking in unseen —is a little off as well.

1.3. "Mrs. Hawking sent you?"
Mrs. Hawking shaking down her own client turns out to be TOTALLY in character

Fortunately I don’t find these to be big problems. Maybe Mrs. Fairmont lied about her problem originally, and that wasn’t clear to Mrs. Hawking until she started investigating. Maybe her plan all along was to make Mary do the talking at the ball. But it does serve as a reminder to consider what’s really in character when I make storytelling choices. You generate more belief in the characters and their actions when they do not what you need them to do, not what the plot needs them to do, but what grows naturally out of the people that they are.

1.5. "Fancy that. You're in attendance this evening."
Would this asshole willingly put herself into a situation where she had to… TALK to people?

In fact, I think that’s the reason Early Installment Weirdness even happens. Because the more you work with the people and the world, the more they tell you who they are. And it usually turns out better when you work with whatever direction it takes. And it turns out that Mrs. Hawking told me she was meaner and more socially maladjusted than I suspected! Lucky for me, there’s a ton of story to get out of that!

Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina will be performed on May 7th at 119 School Street, Waltham, MA at 2PM and 6PM as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2016 in Waltham, MA.

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Process of drafting Base Instruments

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At last, all that outlining for Base Instruments is paying off. I worked my ass off, with Bernie’s help, to figure out what would happen in each scene, and while that tactic can be grueling, I find it so much easier to actually draft the piece with that effort put in on the front end.

Here is my current process strategy. I have broken each scene down into discreet sections. On stage, changing locations is a big shift, so scenes tend to be demarcated by things that happen in the same circumscribed place (like the parlor, the ballroom, et cetera) in the same continuous time period. So, if Nathaniel and Mary are having a conversation just the two of them for a while, but Mrs. Hawking enters at a later point of it and they three talk together, that’s the same SCENE because of the location and temporal continuity, but I’m considering them different subsections. I find such chunking very useful, as it enables me to break down the task of writing everything into manageable pieces.

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A glimpse of my outline

My goal is to write at least one complete subsection a day until I have a complete first draft. Since it’s usually just a part of the scene, it will only works out to a few pages. I do well with breaking big tasks down into smaller, measurable milestones, so this is really helping me dig into the drafting.

The one thing I’m a little sorry about is that the more I learn about how this story is actually going to be put together, the more of the original scene drafting (much of it done during 31 Plays in 31 Days 2014) is not going to be useable. A shame, a couple pieces I liked there either won’t be room for, or just aren’t applicable anymore. Alas, but sometimes darlings are casualties of the process.

The only thing I haven’t yet worked out in the outline is the ending. I know sort of what I want to happen, but there’s a few mechanical issues I haven’t solved. But I think I needed to switch gears, so I thought switching to writing to waste less time. Still, the climax where they fix everything is still up in the air. But maybe actually fleshing out the piece will help inspire a great solution.

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