Writer's block and the search for the "Truth"

Posted on 9th March, 2015

That was a funny week – and by that I don’t mean hilarious.


It started well with the writing and creative process on TRAILER/trash, all guns blazing, firing on all cylinders – think of any gun- ho, positive metaphor and that was me on Monday and Tuesday. Only to be followed by a feeling that I’d fallen down a very deep hole, bashing off its sides as I rocketed ever deeper into an abyss without an end. Or, to be more precise, I experienced writer's block. Why, I don’t know. Suddenly, I became my own worst critic (which is not a bad thing in itself, but hey, in moderation, please and go easy on yourself!) and loathed every word I’d written - in complete opposition to my feelings of Monday/Tuesday – and felt like I was putting more than the trash into my trailer…..


After a weekend of some reflection (and rising panic that I’ll never finish the piece) together with some G&Ts, great company and most excellent sustenance (care of my partner, Des, who really is a master chef) the fog lifted this morning. Strange, because Monday is typically a day that I generally treat with some suspicion and a great deal of prejudice.  


But it all became clear and obvious – it was information overload. Even whilst struggling with my text last week I continued to carry out research on FTMs and strippers and it’s both fascinating and absorbing. To the point that I was simply carrying too much in my head. And then I felt the need to revisit “Boys Don’t Cry” with Hilary Swank, the 1999 movie that created a few shock waves and a new (female, straight) star. And although it was based on the true and tragic story of Brandon Teena, it wasn’t a documentary. It was an artistic interpretation of the ‘truth’ – and so, naturally upset a few people, not least of which was Lana Tisdel, the young lady who entered into a relationship with the FTM character of Brandon but who claimed that she ended the relationship as soon as she found out that he was, in fact, biologically female. Fox Searchlight apparently settled her lawsuit out of court.   Brandon’s own family also objected to Swank's Oscar acceptance speech in 2000 when she referred to Brandon with the male pronouns (for which she later apologised, strangely so).


My point being is, although I’m continually looking up new bits of research and incorporating them into the script, this is to serve the script and not necessarily the “truth”. I’m not writing a documentary but rather, an impression of the truth which, I hope, may (or possibly may not) offer an insight into an unfamiliar world. If you wish for the truth, seek it.   I’m slightly worried by the trend by some respondents to theatre/film that what they see/perceive on stage/on screen MUST positively be the truth and historically accurate.  


There has been some recent hot debate about the veracity of “The Imitation Game”, “The Theory of Everything” and more recently, “Kill Me Now” at the Park Theatre in London about a father and his severely disabled son. None of these purport to be the universal truth although they are based on real people or experiences.   If you want “truth” in the theatre, perhaps verbatim works are best suited to you.  But even then, I’d be a little sceptical. Just because something is written into a script exactly as reported won’t mean that it is the truth. It is that person’s perception and reaction to real events.   It’s one of the reasons why History is both such a vibrant and contentious subject.   It’s not always the history that tells you what you need to know about people – it’s the historiographies that accompany it in which the narrative of the form changes constantly.

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Comments (3)

I think that there are many interpretations of truth...what is fact? and what is emotionally authentic? are two distinctions this article has made me think about.
A story (or at least drama) in my mind ought to be authentic to the theme or idea. If characters and elements of fact need to be moved, developed or reinterpreted, it should be to make the message have more impact. A documentary can stick to the facts. Theatre must make them theatrical. So long as the message is authentic, surely it shouldn't matter? Plus how is it possible to find the writer's voice if the writer is too concerned with someone else's?
Exactly, Gary, thanks! Nice website, btw!
I agree, its most important to get any ideas / dialogue etc to serve the script / story.
So truth isn't always best suited to theatre. Hope this week goes well.