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Thursday, September 23, 2004

Plant Your Wagon, Part Two

George S. Kaufman once said, "Plays aren't so much written as rewritten." That really goes for almost any kind of writing (even the writing of a blog, if I--er, I mean, the writer of the conjectured blog--took the time to do so). "Plant Your Wagon" could be almost a case study on this statement.

This script originally took shape in the waning days of the comedy trio I was part of. In its death throes, Rule of Three hocked up any number of projects, "Plant Your Wagon" being one of them. Ever since I had first come up with "The Ballad of Sam Trellis," Mike and I had, separately, written some other songs and some bits and pieces of dialogue. For some reason, we eventually decided that it was time to churn out a script, so we weaved together the strands that we had on hand and created a bunch of new dialogue to hold everything together.

I think we took all of two days to do this. For structure, we borrowed liberally from the Hope & Crosby picture "The Road to Utopia," and made the whole thing a flashback told by an elderly Sam Trellis. Once done, we were quite pleased with ourselves and made a copy for our performing partner, who didn't seem quite as excited about it as we were. The script went in the vault, and Rule of Three lurched and crawled toward extinction.

As time passed, the thought of doing something with "Plant Your Wagon" stayed with me. I knew there was something worthwhile in it, and when other scripts failed to pan out, I figured that the time had come to dust it off and see what I had.

One of the best tools in the rewriting process is perspective, and the best way to get that is to put the script aside for awhile. Now, I'll grant you that putting it aside for ten years is a bit extreme, but it really gets you a lot of perspective. And the perspective that I got on this script was that it was more of an outline in draft form than an actual script. Everything needed development. The flashback narration needed to go. It needed to be less hurried. And the dialogue, as always, needed refurbishing.

The first revision I did stuck to the original rather closely, although I removed the flashback narration and turned it into a more straightforward narrative. I slogged through, bit-by-bit, until I had almost 30 pages done. I then asked my wife if should would mind if I read it to her (singing the songs is more effective than merely reading the lyrics). She agreed, and I started in.

About two-thirds of the way through, I stopped dead. It was terrible. It was stilted and brittle and not very funny. I put that version aside and thought it over some more. I was so shaken that I wasn't even sure if there would be a third draft. That beautiful inspiration I had in the shower so many years before might end up as just another fragment on the slag heap.

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