NFS: Do you rewrite throughout the process of rehearsing?
el-Toukhy: Yes. When we start the rehearsal period, we have a script. It's not a finely-tuned draft, but we have a script. And then my writer comes into the room, and sometimes she sits for a full day. Otherwise, I have an assistant, or I make mental notes on the scenes where I kind of experienced something new, and then I'll rewrite. And then the next day we will rehearse the scene again to see, is this more in the field of what we want?
Eventually, when we are finishing the rehearsals, after maybe four weeks, we'll spend a couple of weeks rewriting the script to finalize it. And that's the final shooting script. And once I'm shooting—once this playground time is over—I stick to the script, pretty much.
Right now I'm a little less than halfway through the first draft of The Fall Of The Hammer, the new book (out next year? maybe?), and I recognized in this advice some things that were highly familiar from my own work process.
When I'm in the early stages of a story, I tend to run through how it could unfold mentally — maybe not all at once, but in snippets or scenes. I've even use the term "rehearsing" to describe this process, because it has the same net effect: you run through something, you see how it plays out, you go from there.
Most people who don't write seem to think a story comes to someone as if it were Athena from the forehead of Zeus. But nobody starts with The Whole Thing At Once. You begin with a raw idea, expand that into an outline, expand that into a synopsis, start writing scenes, and then discover within the context of each scene what kind of story this actually is. Writing is rewriting, and rewriting is writing.
I've mentioned before the most important thing about any story is where we end up — what note we conclude on and what it feels like. The second most important thing is what we visit along the way. We may know that we want to include this ingredient and touch on that theme, but how that happens is open-ended.
The big lesson for me here is, you have to give yourself the freedom to let a story find itself. Not for the sake of including everything in the world in it, but so that it can best reach the culmination you have in mind for it, and make the most of that culmination.
It's akin to bringing up a child, now that I think about it. You start with this infant that is nothing but pure possibility (and difficulty, waking you up at 3AM), then guide it through several life stages until you have someone that walks out into the world on their own. What you end up with may not be what you had in mind, but that's fine. The point is that it has become its own thing.
A good deal about this story has already changed in the process of writing it, but mainly at the micro level — the details of implementation, not the bigger meanings. It's sometimes frustrating, because it can feel at times like I don't know what kind of story I'm trying to tell, when you blink and all the lines on your map have shuffled around. But confusing as it can be, I know a little confusion now is better than ending up with a story that never evolved past a pure idea.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind