2.4  Writing problems and solutions (ethical and creative).

After covering my theoretical and practical influences as well as explaining choices made in regards to structure and references used in the play, I want to address some problems and possible solutions that I thought of during my creative process.



My main issues related to Neptune were definitely ethical ones. There is always a problem in autobiographical narratives that comes with a fact that a person rarely lives in a vacuum, which means that almost every personal story will include other people, however fleeting that inclusion might be. Even if it is some inner monologue, there will surely be mentionings if not of people, then of places, or things, or some other concepts – all of which will inevitably create social context. That is why it is a common idea among critics and practitioners that no individual story truly belongs to one person. In Neptune, this issue was especially prominent, as the second main character of the play was my ex-partner - an actual real human being with her own agency. I have been asked by pretty much everyone on the artistic team who worked on the production of Neptune if I had ever told M (I will deliberately not mention her real name even here) about what I had been doing. The answer is no. I have thought about it, and is still thinking about it. To be honest, we did not part on good terms, and have not been in touch since then (it has been almost four years already). I fully understand the ethical dubiousness of using her story as part of mine, and I tried to find solutions to this problem is various ways. Mainly by stating as explicitly as possible that everything regarding M in the narrative is my interpretation and reimagining of her. I start the play with a disclaimer that a character people will see is merely a memory, an imaginary ghost of someone I once knew. This is backed up by my choice to intentionally slightly tweak all the tiny details related to M’s character, e.g. her background story is not exactly a story of a person I actually knew.


It is important to note here that initially my plan for this play was much riskier in ethical terms, since instead of a layer of fictional characters I wanted to use two other layers: my subjective memories of my relationship with M, and actual documented pieces of evidence, e.g. our screened text messages and photos. I rejected this idea very fast as no amount of creative choice explanations would sit well with me if I did not consult M first. So, by repeatedly emphasizing as strongly as possible that the character of M is nothing more than a memory, I tried to minimize ethical damage. With that being said, I, of course, realize that if anyone ever wants to find out M’s actual identity, it will be very easy to do so by doing some basic Internet search. I am still very much conflicted internally about writing on M’s behalf, and I will continue thinking of ways to avoid this ethical conflict in the future, and also, hopefully, resolve it with M herself. 


Another issue is all the other characters, except for V and MC who are based on me. I of course thought of it as a copyright problem, since all those characters are not my original creations. However, there is an accepted way of interpretation and critique of someone else’s intellectual property, and in this case this rule can definitely be applied. Essentially, all fictional characters are masks that M and V wear in a sort of parallel universe that exists in the narrative. So, whatever they say or do can be seen as a meta-commentary, not assigned to the actual characters, but to M and V pretending to be them. They are at their core just masquerade costumes used in a story.



My creative problems connected with Neptune are in a way a continuation of my ethical problems. The biggest one is again related to the character of M. I am pretty clear on the limits of my style, and I do understand that I can perhaps mimic speech patterns of some famous characters or even use some of their catch phrases for the recognition effect, but that does not mean that I can skillfully imitate a pattern of speech of a person of different nationality and culture. Here, we can again go back to ethical issues and talk about appropriation, considering that M is an African-American woman. So, it is a double problem – I neither can, nor want to imitate M’s manner of speaking. However, on the other side of this scale is the question of multi-dimensionality of the character. I want people to see M as a real person, a character who would be distinguishable from other characters, and in this case to close my eyes on specificity of language would be equally insensitive.


I openly acknowledge that this problem is not something I found a solution to, but I had to go with finding some sort of middle ground – not by trying to mimic some speech patterns or phrases commonly and, perhaps, stereotypically used in depictions of people from Sothern States of the US, but by adopting some of the words and phrases typical for the real M, a person that I knew. So, I sprinkled some of the unique speech quirks of M onto a quite general dialogue structures and put a copious number of disclaimers about how this should not be perceived as an accurate portrayal.


Another issue, this time unrelated to ethics, was the complexity of the narrative, by which I mean various time lines, characters mirroring characters, layers of character existence, and non-linear narrative on most of those layers. I feel like a created a challenge for myself that could have been easily avoided, but my goal was to reproduce the unreliable, unstructured, and non-linear quality of memory itself. To anchor the overall story, I used the figure of MC, who was tying things together by telling a linear narrative of 2022 and by bringing everyone’s attention to the main plot line and driving force – writing of the play itself. Throughout the year 2022, MC tries to start writing a play about M and V, and fails due to different circumstances. Those circumstances in turn trigger memory episodes of M and V – and that is how bit by bit the whole narrative gets assembled.


Another effect I used was the montage cut structure where I ‘glued’ pieces of stories together by, for example, repeating the same phrases as the end of episode 1 and the beginning of episode 2. Those connecting phrases together with jump-cut structure were supposed to give a feeling of a patchwork storytelling where even if things are complicated the connection is still quite clear and present.


With all those issues being mentioned, I still want to point out that the process of writing Neptune was overall a joyful and possibly even transformative one. Indeed, the same way it is stated in the play, I could not start writing it until October due to the events of the year 2022. However, when I finally decided on all the creative elements, the process only took me a week. With this play, I can stand behind everything I wrote and I believe that I managed to effectively express the main idea that was supposed to be at the core of the whole project – love wins no matter what.



Chapter 3. Fiction