Milquetoast

A Father Christmas
Act Two, Scene One (Finished)
Pages, 9/19/06: 4
Total pages: 118

The courtroom scene is finished. Now I know what Richard Nixon must have felt like when the troops started coming home from Vietnam.

It wasn’t without at least one casualty. Getting toward the end of the scene, the antagonist decided to get in the face of the protagonist. But things don’t turn out the way he expects, and he retreats to where his attorney is sitting. The attorney looks at him and says something like,

“This isn’t like standing up to a bully on the playground”

and then goes on to explain the situation.

I stopped when I wrote that. It seemed awfully milquetoast to me – too understated for the height that the emotions were running at the moment. So I highlighted and changed the line.

“This isn’t like kicking the ass of a bully on the playground.”

And in context with the rest of the explanation, it was perfect. Yes, I know I’m not writing this kind of language any more, but this just fit, coming from a neutral character as it was, a commentary on how the antagonist’s emotions were running in contrast to the real life situation that was unfolding around him.

In my writer’s ear it was perfect. And I went back in and changed the line one more time:

“This isn’t like punching out a bully on the playground.”

Not nearly the impact, but stronger than the original. It made me happier. Not just because I was respecting my own standards. Because I was also respecting the audience’s standards.

See, this is a Christmas show, and that means family show. And granted, it’s probably going to be a bit talky for kids under the age of twelve, and maybe a little scary to that same age group – the idea that a stranger can come and try and take you away from your family – and even though you hear mild swearing and double entendres in G rated films now, my including that line would make me part of the problem.

Plus, I’m staying true to the genre of holiday entertainment, something you can take the family to and have it safe, no matter what your standards are. Had it been a straight courtroom drama, the line might have stayed in. Or not.

This whole issue may be moot anyway. This is still the first draft. There are many rewrites to come. That whole bit may end up with a red X through it in the next draft.

So I guess today’s lesson is this – It’s an honorable thing to make compromises like this, to think of the audience when writing. That’s what you’re doing when you pick a genre and write it. If you flout the conventions of the genre, you’re going to end up in a New York art gallery showing off crucifixes submerged in urine or covering yourself with chocolate and masturbating in public, with government art endowments and grants from people with too much money on their hands as your only source of income.

And under those circumstances, if someone comes up and tells you that your work made them cry, it’ll be for all the wrong reasons.

Listening:
Bats and badgers,
gnats and gadflies,
waterboat men,
Wake up for the greatest day of all
Ants and dormice
open your eyes
mobilize now!

(via iTunes shuffle play)

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