Last time, I wrote about how the theme of “The Unknown Soldiers” became a thing for this year’s show. Which is all very well, of course, but it isn’t a show, is it? The way that I write is actually quite simplistic in many ways. Lots of writers will say that they’ll do an outline first, design characters, work out plotlines and so on. There are even text books that will teach you something about how to do all of these things (you should check out “The 12 Stages of the Hero’s Journey” by Chris Vogler, for instance, if you’re interested in that kind of thing). The thing is, none of that stuff really works for me, at least not in the beginning anyway. Sometimes, I’ll have a cool title. Sometimes I’ll have a single line of dialogue that I want someone to say. Or, I’ll have something equally simple and from that, I’ll construct a story to tell.
Most of the time, I just start writing. I find a starting point, and just go from there. It’s writing that provokes the story for me, and I’ll just try a few things until I find something, anything, that makes me think “Yeah, that’s it!”. In this case, what I had to start from was the photograph and the phrase “The Unknown Soldiers”. Let me give you some idea of how it goes after that.
OK, The Unknown Soldiers. Well, that’s clearly got to be about the man who should be in that coat. But why’s he unknown? The woman must know who he is, surely – maybe it’s that she doesn’t know what happened to him? Maybe the child grew up wondering what happened to his dad? I need a story. Maybe it’s the woman’s story, maybe the child’s, so I start writing, first from her point of view, then from his. It’s not really grabbing me. I suppose, I ought also to point out that obviously I know I’m going to be in this show, so there has to be a part for a middle aged guy as well! In fact, most of the time for Edinburgh I write one-man shows, so when I start I’m actually looking for “How do I get to tell this story on stage?”. The obvious way to achieve that objective would be, of course, to tell the man’s story. I can’t immediately think of a way to do that, especially if he’s “The Unknown Soldier”, but I store that thought away, to fester for a while.
One thing is clear to me – the thoughts I’m having about the photo are of the 1914-18 war. So, I feel we’re possibly looking at someone who didn’t come back from that. This triggers a couple of other thoughts. It’s something of a coincidence that the very first play I did in a real theatre was a Great War play – The Accrington Pals, by Peter Whelan (a pretty unconvincing – too young – CSM Rivers, if you must know!). Secondly, this year is the 100th anniversary of the end of that war – and when I think of that war, my thoughts most often turn to Wilfrid Owen, that most poignant of war poets. It was reading Owen at the age of 13 that made me want to write poetry, which I have done my whole life since then. It was a short step from that thought to thinking of the most famous of his poems, Dulce et Decorum Est – and suddenly I felt I had the rest of my title. Dulce et Decorum Est: The Unknown Soldiers was born.
Now I have a title. Next time, I’ll go a bit deeper into the story writing.
Until then, Dulce et Decorum Est: The Unknown Soldiers will be at the Space Triplex, 6th-11th August 2018.
Tickets are on sale now at the Edinburgh Fringe Box Office