Stagecraft in Fiction & Memoir

Immersed in writing a fourth novel, I’m thinking about the overlap between live theater and the narrative forms of fiction and memoir. Theater has the advantage of the visual set, no need for description of the place or the characters.There they are, well lighted, voices projected to the upper gallery, free to move in meaningful ways.

However, (You knew there was a turn coming, didn’t you?) the written narrative has the advantage of taking us inside the character. Those internal monologues are useful to the reader who cares about things like motivation and impulse control, etc. No need for squishy dialogue between characters to enlighten us.

I read up about directing in theater, a role somewhat like that of the author, who must create a workable story from the following bits and pieces:

Casting: appearance, attitudes, demographics, fear, love, etc. All named and every single one necessary to the story.

Blocking: entrances, exits, proximity to other characters or to important props. I fret if a character is standing idle while others talk. I tend to send them off stage, go get lunch or use the bathroom. Just don’t hang around while others discuss the murder suspect.

Set: too much is too much; in fiction it leads to description overkill; think interior scene or exterior; lighting; noises off stage.

Props: every item has meaning; Chekov’s famous dictum says a gun that appears in Act One must be fired in Act Three. I’m probably going to ignore this, because there is a gun that must not go off in my story.

Dialogue: concise, meaningful, not an info dump telling the reader by means of cross talk, and the wonderful option of interior monologue: She thought, I should not have gone down those cellar stairs.

Time frames: stage time, aka, elapsed time in the story, vs audience time. How long will theater patrons sit? How many hours will a reader devote to the book?

Action: meaningful (see dialogue, speaking is action), reveals emotion, includes posture, voice modulation, facial expression in addition to the punching, the stabbing, the driving while angry.

Tension: rising action, interaction between characters as well as between text and the reader: often a result of resistance, suffering.

I’ve written exactly one play and vowed never to do it again. Once the script was in the hands of the director and out of my hands, I felt like I had abandoned a child in the train station, and it was going on a long journey without me. But story is story and has its place on stage or between the covers of a book. Think about it.

Envy, Jealousy & Covetousness

Okay, this is, sort of, the blog I posted by mistake earlier in the week. I pushed publish when I meant save. The piece had not yet been sauced and seasoned, not yet ready for consumption. Once it had left my hands, I saw no option but to discard the whole thing. So I’m trying to have history repeat itself. Here’s the thing: I read Maeve Binchy’s biography by Pers Dudgeon and came up for air feeling that I had failed as a writer in comparison to the huge success Binchy had. I too started early but did not devote myself to writing the way Maeve did. Bummer! She wrote, traveled, said what she meant and meant what she said. For too long I tiptoed around life, afraid to offend, afraid to expose my work to scrutiny, and I regret those lost years and opportunities. So what was I doing all that time?

Well, if I try to be objective, instead of coveting Binchy’s life, I’ve done plenty. I was an officer in the USAF, I raised two excellent children, I completed grad school twice, taught writing and literature, learned to ride a horse when I should have kept my feet safely on the ground, worked hard and well as a mental health nurse and now I have a small but mostly satisfying list of publications. Not so bad after all. But I do envy Binchy’s accomplishments. The only solution at this point is to keep writing. One thing that helps is flash memoir. I blogged about it recently, but I’m not sure I was yet clear in my own head about its value. When I write about my life, I see what it’s been worth so far. These memories may never see publication beyond the memoir group I work with, but I need to see them, to tell myself that I haven’t been sitting in a corner, sucking my thumb. I’ve been living the life I’m given.