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  • Steph

Relative Motion: evolving story part one

The short story I wrote (which you can read HERE) led to the idea for a play. The seed was planted in my brain when I reread my writing and then came out more fully one summer evening after a long day of rehearsal (for a different play but creative juices were flowing etc etc). I wanted to write a play about the dissolution of a relationship using physics as a frame. I wanted to be able to show both sides of the relationship and how decisions and actions can take on totally different meaning depending on the point of view of the participant.

I had two metaphors in mind.

The first used Newton's three laws of motion. These are:

1) An object will not change its motion unless a force acts on it.

2) The force on an object is equal to its mass times its acceleration.

3) When two objects interact, they apply forces to each other of equal magnitude and opposite direction.

To understand these laws, you have to understand that for there to be movement (or stillness) you have to have a point of reference. If I am on a moving train, then relative to a person standing on a platform, I am moving. If I am on that same train, relative to someone else on that train, I am still.

The second metaphor was based on Einstein's though experiment around the relativity of simultaneity. Imagine a train speeding past a platform. There is one person standing on the platform and one person sitting in the middle of the train. As the train moves past the platform, at the moment where the two people draw level, a lightning bolt hits the front of the train and a lightning bolt hits the back of the train. According to the person on the platform, these two lightning bolts will have hit the train at the same time because the light has the same distance to travel from the back and front of the train to the eyes of the person on the platform. However, for the person on the train, they will see the lightning bolt hit the front of the train first and the lightening bolt hit the back of the train second. This is because the train is moving and that person on the train is in fact travelling in the direction of the front lightning bolt. So the distance the lightning bolt has to travel from the front of the train to the observer compared to the distance the back lightning bolt will have to travel is shorter.

When I wrote my first draft of Relative Motion, the feedback I got was that it a) ended abruptly and b) didn't seem to explore both sides of the relationship. It was very much told from Sam's point of view.

a) This was completely fair. When writing, I had gotten a little disheartened and totally ran out of steam. So I did in fact write the last scene, plonk it at the end of all the scenes I'd written (which made up a developed act one and a non-existent act two) and called it a day. I had sat with it long enough by myself and wanted some feedback so I sent it out to a couple of people who I knew would be honest but kind with a very very early bit of writing.

b) this was also completely correct. I had started with an idea of exploring a relationship from two sides and that is not what came out when I was writing. I had written a breakdown of a relationship fully from one character's point of view. In that round of feedback, one person told me that perhaps I needed to let go of what it was I had wanted to do and try to follow what the piece had become (I am paraphrasing very badly - it wasn't nearly as cheesy and it was much more eloquent).

I let go of that initial idea. Not completely because ultimately the play was still about two people who come together and fall apart but the play had started to explore a dynamic that I hadn't intended and to which the first readers seemed to respond well. It's Beautiful, Over There had been so focused as a story from the beginning that this way of writing was totally new for me. It was very cool and very scary to see an idea take on a life of its own and relinquish the control or preconceptions I had had at the outset.


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