Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Writing a Madrigal script; Character Matrix

I'm working on a script to submit for the University of Texas' annual Madrigal Dinner production. I've written several of these before, and they've even used a couple of them for the show. It's a dinner theater production with a choir, and the feasting has to be integrated into the story.

Last year I wrote one that I was just inordinately happy with, but they didn't choose to use it. Now Madrigal script time has rolled around again and I've decided to write another script.

In a way, I'm surprised at myself. My usual pattern would be to let last year's rejection get me down, and skip it this year. But writing last year's script was such a positive experience, and I was so happy with the result, that I don't feel that way at all.

A Madrigal Dinner, in the UT style, has a very specific format. It has a constrained set of scenes and length and several clear dramatic unities. It must take place around a feast. It must include a king, queen, and assorted nobility. It must provide specific opportunities for the choir to sing.

These limits are not negatives; they make a Madrigal writing project go very quickly. In fact, there was a post on 43Folders recently about how limits can be used in creative projects. For me, I find the Madrigal limits kill a lot of my problems in finishing a story.

Here are some of the things that I waste time on in story writing that are nonissues in a Madrigal project:

  • I used to waste a lot of time choosing a point of view, and would sometimes write half or more of a story in one point of view, then try another. I don't do that so much anymore...but you really can't worry about this one in a Madrigal: it's a play. It's not about point of view. You can use the point of view of whoever's on stage.

  • Flashbacks and timejumping. I've seen Madrigals that had complicated time jumps. I don't like it; it's complicated. It's a big complicated production as it is, and it's not worth risking confusing the audience.

  • The setting and characters are fairly defined already. It's gotta be a court, you need a king, queen, prince/princess, probably a jester, that sort of thing.

And then there's a technique I now want to use in all my stories, that I developed while writing madrigals. Basically, I make a character matrix. I compare all my major characters to each other and make sure that for each, I develop an overall motivation, a specific goal, a conflict, an epiphany, some dialogue tags if possible, that sort of thing. This year I've got a theme of stated goals versus real wants, so for each character I'm trying to develop those...the wants may develop into the epiphanies, as the characters realize that what they think they want isn't what they really want.

I usually do this with separate sections for each character in my notes; doing it in a table, as a matrix, somehow makes a lot more sense to me. The act of aligning and comparing the characters story-relevant properties seems to move development along better.

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