After the play reading with live actors, I met the director a couple of weeks later. She had organized her notes from that evening and we began reviewing the play, line by line, scene by scene. She added comments of her own, indicating places where the language was too stilted making the characters sound “schoolmarmish.” She wanted the dialogue to flow. At other points, she wanted more dialogue to include missing details. Then with the bowels of the play reviewed, we focused on the ending. Over the course of 30 years, I admitted the play had had several endings. We discussed some of them and then, together, we came upon another. I wasn’t asked to change my work, but was left with the suggestion that I rethink the ending once again. I said I would.
Later, once we’d gone our separate ways, I thought about how well the evening had progressed and what an education it had been for me. At one point in our discussion, for example, the director suggested I cut a line. It had survived many years of editing, so I was curious about her suggestion. The scene is one where a young woman says “I’m going for a glass of water,” as she heads for the kitchen. “A play isn’t like a novel, Caroline,” the director said in reply to my question. “You don’t have to tell the audience what’s happening. They see it.”
The remark was self-evident, yet a light bulb went off in my head. Until that moment, I’d never understood, at the gut level, the difference between a story and a play. Others had tried to explain but their remarks were vague. “Too much ‘talking heads’ here.” Or, “You write like a novelist not a playwright.” I knew I had something to fix, but I was never sure what. Now I did and in hindsight, I blush at the simplicity. A story uses words to paint the imagination. A play uses words to foment action. To write for either genre, language must know its purpose.
That evening, I drove home eager to reopen my drama, despite the many years of work I’d already given it. This time, I wasn’t struggling through a fog. This time, my course was clear. I was the captain of my ship and I knew how to reach safe harbor.