Crying and that

I’m not sure why, but I feel moved to respond to Lyn Gardner’s very good piece here, more in my capacity as a writer, than an audience member. Or something.

I’ve cried at one theatre show in my life (Matilda), and I can only remember crying at one film (2005’s Shooting Dogs) in the last decade. Neither occasion had anything to do with them being ‘the best thing I’ve ever seen’. You just have… buttons. You have buttons that are specific to your own experiences and if something lands on them and does so in a way that you (who shares that particular experience) recognises as ‘true’, crying is something you can’t help yourself doing. The same could probably be said of being sick. It’s just an induce-able thing you do, and it means relatively little outside of itself.

So basically, I’ve always felt that if you build your play around your pre-decided ‘big emotional moments’, you’re cheating. A bit. Because that’s not a story, it’s some set-pieces, and it doesn’t mean that what comes in between will OBVIOUSLY be crap, but it sets you down the road of doing so. Don’t think ‘ah-HA, now this is the scene where I make everyone cry’, because you’re focusing on what the *result* of the scene is going to be, not whether it actually makes any sense in the context of the others. It *ought* to achieve that without you having to try. If it doesn’t, then your play probably doesn’t work in the way that you want it to work, in which case I recommend stopping thinking about what you want your play to do, because your play is most likely about your opinion on an issue, and that is BORING. I don’t know why anyone would want to see a piece of art in which shit things are revealed to be shit. That’s not an emotional journey – it’s an emotional doorstep.

Obviously it can just as easily work the other way – my least-favourite theatre experience ever was a play that was perfectly well-put-together, but which treated its characters with such utter contempt that it was almost unwatchable. It had the soul of… I dunno, something horrible, like a uselessly thin tupperware takeaway box that you can’t use for anything else, or the Cordyceps fungus. The only thing more boring than earnestly telling everyone how much you care is smirking at imaginary people who make stupid decisions BECAUSE YOU TELL THEM TO.

Also, if you’re trying for an effect, it won’t work. Not for everyone. Just like there’s ‘someone for everyone’, for every dramatic effect you try to create there’s going to be someone to whom it means nothing, no matter how personal and painful it is to you. And because they haven’t shared that emotional experience you might not ever be able to make them see it that way. Ever. And that’s not a bad thing, it’s just a THING, so just try to make what you’re writing make sense. I’ve always felt emotion comes best out of proper character logic anyway. You might disagree.