Writing, Love, and Ethics

It seemed so easy. Write a 15-minute pantomime script. I’ve done that before. Use “East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon” as the base fairy tale. No problem. That’s my absolute favourite fairy tale (for those unfamiliar, it’s basically Norwegian Beauty and the Beast, with a polar bear). I know it backwards-forwards-and-inside-out, and hey, I’ve adapted it for the stage before.

Easy-peasy.

As you recall from last week, this November is Crunch-Month (although the To-Do list keeps shrinking), so the idea of a dead-simple project was great. Just bang something out real fast, and then get back to the mountain of edits, writing, and seekrit projekts.

As you can probably guess, it didn’t quite go that way.

I banged something out real fast. Unusually for me, I hand-wrote the first draft, edited in transcription, and then tossed it over the wall to Blythe. She made a few suggestions; I tweaked a few things. Then I sat in on the actors’ first reading.

“It’s really funny,” they reassured me. “It rockets along.”

It was barely 12 minutes.

“Man, you were ruthless with the source material.”

Ruthless? Really? The longer I sat and listened and took notes, the more dread started sinking through my gut.

I’d made a terrible mistake.

I’d taken my favourite fairy tale, and—because I was stressed, because it was Crunch-Month, because I was arrogant—I’d banged out something really fast. It was cheap, in every sense of the word. I felt cheap, when I realized. I’d taken something incredibly important to me, and excised everything I actually love about it.

You see, there is more to writing than making sure the plot and characters and sentences all square up. The story has to sit right with its creator, ethically. Art comes from our deepest selves; if it’s going to mean anything, it cannot be cheap. It cannot be inauthentic. Love is the wellspring—and there was nothing of love in that first attempt.

Then there is the whole separate issue of respecting source material. Maybe I could’ve skated by if this was pure parody…but it wasn’t. Pantomimes, for all the laughs, have a true core, which I completely ignored in my dash to the finish line.

So what does one do?

I took a little time to be angry with myself. And then I went back to the source. In my personal library, I have two versions of “East o’ the Sun.” I read both, then looked at the Kay Nielsen illustrations, and then put on the instrumentals for the opera libretto I wrote a while back.

I began again. I kept very little from the first draft. Because this—this—is what I love about “East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon.”

I love the brave girl and bear travelling north together.

My favourite image (Kay Nielsen, 1914).

I love the image of northern lights playing over sheer ice.

Cover of Edith Pattou’s novel “East,” by Stephen T. Johnson.

I love the brave girl accepting her mistake, and going off to save her prince.

“East” illustration by Kay Nielsen (1914).

I love the four winds.

Production shot from “East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon,” Canadian Children’s Opera Company, 2014. Photographer: Michael Cooper

I love her cleverness, her bravery, and her love.

“The Kiss,” by PJ Lynch, from a 1962 illustrated version. It makes even my stony little heart quicken.

The next script had much more of that. I breathed a sigh of relief.

As the girl discovers—mistakes can be fixed. Bears and princes can be rescued. The way can be found.

In writing—and “East”—it is love that will see you through. This was a good reminder.

-KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

I’m not sure why this popped up, but here we are. “Love Changes Everything” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Aspects of Love. Michael Ball has an utterly adorable, buttery singing voice. This is musical cotton candy, but sometimes, that’s what one needs!

Posted on November 27, 2017, in Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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