Saturday, May 16, 2009

How not to write: "The Waverly Gallery"

In keeping with the spirit of using this blog as an extended forum for us to continue our exchange of ideas and feedback as we work to advance our writing careers, I'd like to share with you something that is not as easy to come by as one would logically think: a bad example.

I've just finished reading Kenneth Lonergan's The Waverly Gallery, a 1999 play about a family trying to cope with a grandmother's advancing Alzheimer's disease. Remember all those rules and guidelines we studied during the semester? You won't find any of them in it.

No want, no transformation, plenty of filler in the dialogues, answered questions and stated emotions. Nothing happens -- and not in any avant-garde Beckett way, either. I can't even tell you who the protagonist is supposed to be: the Alzheimer-stricken grandmother who's supposed to be the focus of it is pushed around the whole play as she mumbles incoherently, her daughter who seems to call the shots of the family doesn't bring about much change or asserts herself in any sort of power structure, and her grandson does little more than bitch about a failing romantic relationship (which we never see onstage), though for some reason he gets to speak to the audience in introductory soliloquies to a few scenes. His father, to boot, is one of those characters that could be removed entirely and not be missed at all.

"Gee, Celso, with that subject matter, what did you expect?" Good point. I looked for this play because its author is one of the screenwriters of Analyze This, which I find an excellent example of a good screenplay, with fresh comedy and engrossing characters that bring about a perfect balance of laughter and seriousness. Seems like I should look for stuff by the other screenwriters.

It's easy to find timeless classics by celebrated authors that we're all supposed to idolize and learn from. But if you ever find yourself in need of a negative example to put the good stuff in perspective, look no further: run through The Waverly Gallery with a checklist, and by the time you're done you'll have finished an intensive crash course on what to avoid in writing.

1 comment:

  1. Good to know. I'm planning on reading up on as many plays as I can over the summer and I don't know if I could stand that.

    Cheers for getting through the whole thing!