Tag Archives: Paying Melpomene’s Price

Rewriting Chapter One

Here’s some thoughts on the art of rewriting. And a quick update. Update first. About three-quarters of the way through rewriting chapter one. Chapter one introduces the building blocks of the risk theatre: the hero’s temptation, the hero’s wager, and the hero’s cast (of the die). It’s all a gambling metaphor. Simple, you say: the hero rolls the dice and loses. End of tragedy. Well, it is that simple and it isn’t that simple. In my mind it’s that simple. But once I start to put in into words, it becomes quite complicated. So much so that I’m now a week behind my self-imposed schedule. The goal was one chapter on the first of each month.

Why’s it complicated? Well, sometimes things just don’t work out when you put them into words. Or, when you put thoughts into words, unforeseen problems come up. The latest one is the gambling metaphor of looking at each dramatic act as a gambling act. You’ll recall that my idea of tragedy is built up from a gambling metaphor: the hero’s temptation, the hero’s wager, and the hero’s cast. Once I started committing the idea onto paper, it occurred to me that something was very wrong with the hero’s wager.

In the actual game of gambling, the gambler antes up for a chance to win the pot. If the gambler wins, he keeps his ante and the pot. So, if the gambler antes up $5 and wins the $10 pot, he finishes with $15. Well, in the risk theatre, the hero loses or sacrifices what he antes up. So, if Macbeth stakes the milk of human kindness to win the crown, when he gets the crown, he loses the milk of human kindness. Similarly, when Antigone stakes her civic obligations to fulfil her religious obligations, she forsakes her civic obligations when she fulfils her religious obligations. If the gambling metaphor were spot on, if Macbeth or Antigone were to win the round, they should be able to keep both the milk of human kindness and the crown (in the case of Macbeth) or fulfil both her civic and religious obligations (in the case of Antigone).

So this has been holding me up on chapter one. The surprising thing is that I’ve been thinking about this idea for years now (and have even written the first draft). The problem of the incongruence between the gambling metaphor and the dramatic action has never occurred to me. It is only through thinking about everything carefully in the rewrite of chapter one that the problem cropped up. Rewriting is very useful: since the writer has already got the skeleton of the idea down, brainpower can be devoted to working the ideas through. Writing the first draft was really a test to see whether there was enough in the risk theatre (or myself) to write a book. The ideas were only half-baked at that stage, as the point of the first draft was really only some kind of a proof of concept. Rewriting is where the real thinking takes place. In fact, thinking and writing are allied concepts: thinking (the hard thinking) only takes place through the process of writing things into words. The mind always thinks that its ideas work. Writing is what proves that they actually work.

So what did I do? Nothing. After recovering from the shock, it didn’t seem that bad. Metaphors are metaphors. If they worked perfectly, they wouldn’t be metaphors. They would be the real thing. What counts is that the metaphor allows you to see something in a productive way. The gambling metaphor achieves this in tragedy by highlighting the element of risk. The gambling metaphor also captures the obsession, abandon, and loss that heroes experience as they go for the gold. And, on top of this all, tragedians frequently insert gambling metaphors into the mouths of their heroes. So, the gambling metaphor is double justified: first, it highlights the element of risk in theatre. And second, dramatists use the gambling metaphor themselves.

Getting back now to the theme of rewriting. What does rewriting do? It forces the writer to think the idea through. Ideas always work out in the writer’s mind. Rewriting is to the writer what experimentation or the scientific method is to the scientist: it’s a way of proving an idea works. It subjects the idea to the rigours of logic and rhetoric. By writing, the writer is forced to demonstrate that it works. The more rewrites the better. But, mind you, there comes a time just to move on as well.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and I’m re-Doing Melpomene’s Work.

Preface Released to Beta Readers

After a flurry of last minute activity, the preface has gone out to the eight brave beta readers last Friday. It’s a bit of a milestone as now, for the first time *drum roll* Paying Melpomene’s Price has GONE PUBLIC! If you haven’t received it yet, the spam filter might have put it into junk mail. Well…it might be junk but I’d rather the beta readers tell me than the spam filter!

Here’s the little blurb that went out with it. Thanks to MR and MA for ideas and suggestions on putting the blurb together:

Brave Beta Readers,
This is it! The preface of Paying Melpomene’s Price is attached. Two identical versions: a Microsoft Word document and a PDF. You can either comment right on the Word document (use a big font or colour) or markup the PDF with Adobe Acrobat. Alternately, you can comment in return email by citing page and paragraph (e.g. page 2, the paragraph that starts with ‘Two and a half…’). I can also deliver hard copies to those wanting to go that route! All sorts of options, use the easiest!
This is what I’m looking for: 1) parts you like (I should do more of this), 2) parts you don’t like (I should do less of it), 3) parts you understand (I should do more of this), and 4) parts that are difficult to understand (I should rewrite). Here’s a set of symbols:
Parts you like, put a checkmark
Parts you don’t like, put a frown
Parts you understand, write a capital U
Parts that are hard to understand, write a ?
Don’t worry about grammar and spelling. Those things will be caught down the line. Go with initial reactions. Right now, I’m most concerned with people’s reactions: what they like and what they don’t like. Don’t worry about offending me! Now’s the time that honesty is appreciated. Better to fix things now than later! There’s eight beta readers, so it’ll be interesting to see if some kind of consensus forms. I’m betting it will.
No rush. If things get busy, wait for the next instalment to come out (one per month, eight more sections). BIG thanks to everyone for participating!
Edwin Wong
Writer – Doing Melpomene’s Work

It’ll be interesting to see if a consensus forms between the eight beta readers. Will they like/dislike the same things? It’s a diverse crowd of beta readers: artists, graphic designers, a doctor, a restauranteur, an academic coordinator, and some self-employed business people. No one (as far as I can tell) with a professional theatre background. That might be a good thing. One person moonlights as a bona fide editor (has edited articles for Science and Nature). Ages range from thirties to sixties. Three women and a five men. A good mix.

The preface is eight pages long. Before rewriting, it was ten pages long. Another page or two can probably get deleted somewhere down the line. But it’s as good as I can get it right now. After sending it out, I was curious: how long would it take to read eight pages? I timed myself reading it in 17 minutes. But that’s sort of cheating as I’m reading my own thoughts. For other people to read it maybe it would take 25-30 minutes? If you’re making notes on the page as you go along, that might add another fifteen minutes. So maybe 45 minutes or so?

Another things: Microsoft Word pages (and PDFs made from Word) are longer than book pages. I counted up how many words there are in several softcover academic type works and compared them with the word count in the preface. Word counts in books vary according to spacing, font, and page size. But it seems like you can convert Microsoft Word pages into average book pages by dividing by 0.6. So, eight pages of the preface in Word = 13.33 book pages (8 / 0.6 = 13.33).

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and I’m glad there are brave beta readers out there Doing Melpomene’s Work.

Get Your Free Copy of Paying Melpomene’s Price

Wanted: Beta Readers

Any beta readers out there? For your time and helpful suggestions, you will receive a signed copy of Paying Melpomene’s Price: Tragedy and the Risk Theatre. What is more, beta readers will be individually acknowledged in the published version: I realize your time is valuable. C’mon, give it a go and take part in this happy and worthy cause!

As assiduous readers will recall, the first draft of Paying Melpomene’s Price is complete. The internal process of rewriting and editing started in early August. I am looking for some much needed feedback as I rewrite and edit before sending the manuscript out to the copy editors, structural editors, proofreaders, etc., next year. You see, the ideas in Paying Melpomene’s Price have been with me so long that they just make sense. I’m convinced. But convincing me is like preaching to the choir. I’m reaching out for different perspectives.

What’s Involved for Beta Readers

There’s a preface and eight chapters. Each chapter is about 15 pages. At the rate I’m going, I’m editing/rewriting a chapter a month. This is what I’m thinking: each month I’ll release a chapter. To do a cursory read and make some notes takes roughly two hours. To write out the notes in an email takes another couple of hours (some may be faster). So its a half a day per month for nine months, give or take.

The nice thing is, the heavy lifting of fact checking, close reading, and proofreading will be done at a later stage. Right now, the thing that interests me the most is whether things make sense. These are the sorts of questions I have for beta readers: where is the text clear? Where is it unclear? What are some of the things I do well (because I need to do more of it!). What are some of the things you wish I did less of?

Beta Reader Qualifications

The book is on literary theory and theatre. But this doesn’t mean that beta readers have to be experts in these fields (though experts are welcome!). In some ways, it even helps out more when beta readers approach the text from a nonspecialist perspective: I want the arguments to appeal to broad segments of the population. I want it to be accessible to students, academics, dramatists, literary theorists, and people just interested in theatre or literary theory. I believe it’s possible to write something simple and broadly appealing at the same time. That’s where the feedback from beta readers is invaluable. Is it something you would enjoy reading (if you were not beta reading)?

So, there are no qualifications for beta readers! If you want to contribute to the idea of tragedy as the risk theatre or just to be a beta reader, give it a whirl!

Back Blurb for Paying Melpomene’s Price

The back blurb is an ongoing composition. Here it is as it stands right now. It’ll give you an idea of whether Paying Melpomene’s Price is something you want to beta read:


Tragedy is a high stakes game where gamblers stake the milk of human kindness for a crown (Macbeth), the immortal soul for mortal glory (Dr. Faustus), or happiness for distinction (The Master Builder). By playing the game, heroes expose themselves to risk: a dead man’s hand or a queen of spades lurks in the cards. This is the idea of the risk theatre.

Paying Melpomene’s Price is about the risk theatre. The risk theatre sells heroes its benefits at a dear cost. Oedipus saves Thebes, but pays the price in doing so. Because relief is purchased by exile, love is purchased by blood, and power comes at the cost of the soul, tragedy is a valuing mechanism. It assigns a tangible value to intangible human qualities: the milk of human kindness may be exchanged for a crown. In an increasingly monetized world, tragedy restores value to humanity because its transactions are not measured in dollars and cents, but blood, sweat, and tears.

This book is written for students of tragic art theory looking for a philosophy of tragedy that celebrates the innate value of life. It is also written with dramatists in mind: in these pages is a neoclassical working model of drama. With its template, the dramatist can bring the idea of risk theatre to the stage. It is also written for those dismayed in the monetization of all things: the risk theatre puts the human back in humanity.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and today I’m looking for beta readers interested in Doing Melpomene’s Work.

Finish Line Psychology

Almost There!

Writing a theory of drama’s been a goal since the late teenage years. I’m forty now. It’s been like a long distance run. The last major intellectual hurdle was cleared this afternoon. So, if we’re going to compare writing with long distance running, it’s the moment where the Boston Marathon runner gets over Heartbreak Hill. While Heartbreak Hill isn’t the steepest hill out there, it’s location, location, location. It’s after the 20th mile right before the finish. Runners are usually pretty tuckered out by then. Not that I’ve experienced it. The longest I usually go for is 10k (which is roughly 6 miles) and I’m pretty tuckered out by that! But writing the book has sure been like a marathon. Looking back, the preface was written way back in 2010. So, by clearing the last major intellectual hurdle, it should all be downhill from here!

Finish Line Psychology

So there’s some odds and ends to tie up. The last hurdle was differentiating between ex-ante and ex-post arts. Ex-ante and ex-post arts? What are those? Well, those are my terms for backwards and forwards looking arts. Comedy and tragedy are ex-ante: they look forwards into the unknown. History and philosophy are ex-post arts because they look backwards. History was easy to classify as ex-post because there’s no history of the future. Philosophy was more of a challenge. I thought for a few weeks I would have to go through the philosophical corpus (which is tough slogging) until a solution presented itself. Thankfully, an easy solution came to mind: philosophy must be ex-post because it is based on interpreting experiences which have already happened.

All there’s left to do now is to compare and contrast tragedy and comedy. Unless there’s some hidden hobgoblin I can’t see, this should be straightforward. A page should do it. Maybe less than a page. And then after that, final words on the consolation that the various genres offer. Another page for that. AND THEN I AM DONE LIKE DINNER!

But the interesting thing about finish line psychology is that I seem to be slowing down as I approach the finish line! Where’s the finishing kick runners are famous for? It’s like a part of me has been living with writing this thing for so long that I don’t want to finish! Could it be? Of course, even when I finish and type out ‘THE END’, it’s not really done. Then there’s the editing. I’ll go back, reread the whole thing (it’s been so long I can hardly remember the first few chapters), and delete about half of it. A lot of the time when I’m writing it feels like it’s something awesome but then looking back on it, it isn’t so great. I want the book to be short rather than long. Crisply argued rather than densely argued. I value my readers’ time. In fact its a privilege to have someone read your work.

So even when I’m done it’s not done. In fact the whole process of seeing this thing come to print after the draft is ready might be as hard as producing the draft in the first place! That’s what the self-publishing ‘how-to’ books have been telling me. So why is this finish line psychology slowing me down?

Maybe it has been the routine of writing. Once I finish it means that I’ll be reading the manuscript and beginning the rewriting process. Maybe I’m afraid of doing this. Maybe there’s something in there that I won’t like. That must be it. But good thing I read the War of Art. The book is all about situations such as this. It says that the fear is the ‘Resistance’ talking. The ‘Resistance’ is the built in negativity that prevents us from doing stupid things but also prevents us from going on to do great things. The important thing now is to get over this finish line psychology. Time for the final kick. Faster and faster towards the finish line. There’s one thing worse than writing a bad book: not finishing. But what am I saying? It’s going to be great!

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and I have been Doing Melpomene’s Work now for a long time.

The Art of Copywriting

Isn.t that the grooviest word: copywriting? Not copyright as in legal intellectual rights, but copywriting as in writing the back blurb: you know, the ‘elevator pitch’ on the back cover of books. When I first came across this word, I had thought, ‘Weird that they would call this copyrighting–what does copyrighting have to do with marketing materials?’. Finally, it occurred to me, it.s copyWriting not copyRighting! Even the words to describe copywriting are groovy. If, you.re, say, copywriting, and someone asks you what you.re doing, you can say, ‘I.m writing copy’. It sounds very serious. And esoteric. And mysterious. That.s something I.d like to be able to say one day, just for the sake of saying something so awesome. Everyone must have a storehouse of phrases like that: things that would be so cool to say but so hard to find the right moment to come along to unleash all the goodness.

The art of copywriting is one of the final chapters in Alison Baverstock.s The Naked AuthorAssiduous readers will recall I blogged about the book here. Here.s Baverstock.s words of wisdom on copywriting:

A whole chapter on how to describe your work–is this really necessary?

It is crucial. There is no clearer predictor of a self-published book likely to disappoint than poor associated copy. The words with which you describe your work have a massive impact on the customer’s willingness to perceive value; whether they buy your work–and then hang on to it if they do.

Copywriting involves producing the text to describe your offering; it entices the recipient towards further involvement. In the case of a product or service this may mean purchase, either for themselves or on behalf of someone else; in the case of an idea, it might mean trying to secure agreement–or at least acknowledgement of an alternative point of view.

The process is a lot harder than it looks. You have to work out who is likely to be purchasing and/or using the product or service (not always the same person); establish the associated benefits that are most likely to appeal; consider how much argument to present (too much information can be as alienating as too little) but all the while support the consumer’s perception that it is their decision over whether or not to buy–most people hat to be ‘sold to’.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is not inclined to see copywriting as an art. There is a general assumption that the briefer the copy you have to craft, the more speedily you will be able to produce it–and as we have all been to school, and learnt to write, how hard can that really be? But it is far more difficult to write short than long text, and effective copy needs extensive crafting, usually through a time-consuming process of getting your ideas down, allowing a meaningful theme to emerge, and then a long process of refining the message.

If I quote any more, I will run into copyright issues! It.s true that writing short is more difficult to write long. Do you remember how Pascal closed a letter to friend once? Something along the lines of, ‘I apologize for writing such a long letter, as I did not have time to make it shorter’. Writing short is an art. Seneca the Younger wrote short witty aphorisms, and he recommended anyone interested in writing short practise daily. People who Twitter (I.m just learning about this) might be practiced on the art of writing short: Twitter limits how many characters can be used in tweeting. So it forces someone who.s twitting to really think about the message in precise terms.

So, here.s my first attempt to write copy for Paying Melpomene’s Price:

The loss of a sense of value in a world where everything has become monetized has led to a reexamination of the tragic art form as a means of reclaiming human value. What if tragedy were a marketplace? What if it were like one of the great bourses in New York or Frankfurt, except anger and ambitions change hands instead of stock certificates? What is more, what if Melpomene’s price is not something to be paid in dollars and cents, but the terms of payment are all-too-human things such as faith, the milk of human kindness, or even the soul of a man.

This book is the meeting of Aristotle’s Poetics with Smith’s Wealth of Nations. It paints a picture of the hero as a gambler willing to lay down his life in gage for the great reward. It will help you conceptualize how the hero rediscovers human value by playing the high stakes game in the ludic theatre. Written for dramatists, theatregoers, and students of tragic art theory, there are detailed examples of how tragedy can be conceptualized not as a destructive medium, but as a celebration of the spiritual wealth which resides in each of us.

Written by a lifelong connoisseur and student of the theatrical arts, this comprehensive study breaks down tragedy into its constituent parts: the hero’s wager, the myth of the price you pay, and the role of the unexpected. They myth of the price you pay provides the philosophic underpinnings of tragedy: you get something for something, nothing for nothing, and sometimes nothing for something. In the hero’s wager is the dramatization of the myth of the price you pay. Finally, the role of the unexpected generates the thrill of theatre. In breaking down tragedy into its constituent parts, it builds them back up to argue that tragedy is the greatest show on earth.

I.d like to make is more exciting and shorter. It was a good exercise in expressing in a few words what the whole book is about though. Another things that goes hand in hand with copywriting is the shout line. Here.s three examples from Baverstock:

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water (Jaws 2)

In space no one can hear you scream (Alien)

Love means never having to say you’re sorry (Love Story)

The shout line is the elevator pitch. I like the first two, but the last one eludes me. When you.re in love you.re never in error? Or did I miss something? The one from Alien hits you with the terror of the silent scream–that I can see loud and clear. And the shout line from Jaws 2 is effective as it reconnects the viewer with the thrill of watching the first Jaws. So here.s what I.m thinking for a shout line for Paying Melpomene’s Price:

You can’t be a hero if you got nothing to lose.

I hope its attention grabbing. The point I.m trying to get across is that tragedy is about the hero who pays a price. How much of a price he pays establishes the worth of his ambitions. So, by saying you can’t be a hero if you got nothing to lose, I.m trying to get someone.s attention by making the claim that a hero is a hero because he.s a betting man. Something like that. Heroes have been defined in a lot of ways: descended from the gods (Achilles), great exploits (Heracles), legendary king (Minos), and so on. By defining a hero as someone who has something to lose to me is a fresh approach. Undoubtedly not original, because nothing really is original, but it seems original enough that it can get people’s attention and also be an honest take on the essence of the work.

Let.s see how things develop. Lots of time still (famous last words!). Until next time, I.m Edwin Wong and I am putting my thoughts into words in this blog dedicated to Doing Melpomene’s Work.