Tag Archives: writing tips

Oh, the Drama! Novel Writing from a Playwright’s Perspective

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Images are from a recent production of Peter Pan which I directed, but unfortunately, did not write.

As a director and resident playwright at my local children’s theater, I came into novel writing from a script writer’s background. There are drawbacks of coming from the stage to the page. But there are benefits, too. I think the lessons I’ve learned and am still learning apply to writers from all backgrounds, and I look forward to reading how you deal with these areas when writing.

Pitfalls: 

Seeing the Scene: “Could we have a little more description of this location?” My editor wrote this several *cough* times in my first novel manuscript. I call it the plague of the playwright: I “see” all my scenes as if they’re on stage or in a movie, often forgetting the reader can’t see them as well. I’ve had to make conscience decisions to describe “the set” of each scene, realizing that setting is what grounds the reader in the character’s world. This usually happens during the second draft.

Disoriented: “Orientation.” That’s another comment that occasionally still pops up in edits. Related to the first pitfall, in a script, I’d put the character’s position and movement on the set in parenthetical stage notes. I see it in my head when I write, but have to remember to help the reader see it by describing it for them.

Lost in Transition: As a director, I’m used to beginning and ending scenes via light cues and curtains. But that won’t work in fiction. It doesn’t always take much, just showing the passage of time or giving a character some internal dialogue (another thing it’s easy for this playwright to forget to include), but it’s the difference between a confused reader and one who can suspend disbelief.

Pluses:

PP2 (1)What’s That You Say? Dialogue is probably the playwright’s number one vehicle, and most of my first drafts consist of the characters talking. If I’m writing a script, I will often hand a copy to my husband so I can hear how a scene sounds aloud in comparison to how it sounded in my head. A strong internal ear is valuable for a novelist, but when in doubt, read it out!

Hands Free: I recently saw a contest for a short story written entirely in dialogue-no tags allowed. If I weren’t working on other projects, I’d probably enter for the fun of it. Body and dialogue tags aren’t a bad thing, and I use them often, but they can clunk up an otherwise snappy conversation. Playwrights have to rely solely on words in a script and let the actors fill in the rest. I think a stretch of dialogue without any tags gives the reader a chance to connect with the characters in a deeper way, utilizing the imagination to fill in the blanks. Jane Austen was a master of this. A conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice:

“Of what are you talking?”

“Of Mr. Collins and Lizzy. Lizzy declares she will not have Mr. Collins, and Mr. Collins begins to say he will not have Lizzy.”

“And what am I to do on the occasion? It seems a hopeless business.”

“Speak to Lizzy about it yourself. Tell her you insist upon her marrying him.”

“Let her be called down. She shall hear my opinion.”

Now, I would have been tempted to at least used one physical description of Mrs. Bennet flailing about or pulling at her cap, but Jane trusts that she’s painted the characters well enough for us to see it all in the theater of our minds. Also noteworthy is that she doesn’t use a single exclamation point.

I’m Hearing Voices: Nobody wants to see a play with characters who sound like echoes of each other, and the same holds true in fiction. I like to give characters varying sentence construction and one or two key words or phrases that they say without thinking, especially in conversations.

PP3It’s All About the Timing: There’s no time for lags in action or dialogue in theater. If you’ve ever been to a play with a seemingly eternal scene change or worse, where an actor forgets lines, you know how it pulls you out of the show. Pacing is priority in fiction, too. Varying sentence structure, giving readers time to “breathe” after intense scenes, and knowing how to end a chapter with a page turner will all keep your audience fully invested in your characters’ journeys.

I’d love to hear from other script writers on how you make the transition from script or screenplay to story, and from anyone else who has insight on how to improve a novel’s setting, orientation, and transitions.

LGBioPicture copyIn addition to writing, directing, and occasionally acting in plays and musicals, Louise Galveston is the author of BY THE GRACE OF TODD and IN TODD WE TRUST (Penguin/Razorbill). She resides in Kansas with her large family and a noisy parrot, who supply plenty of comedy and drama. 

 

 

 

To Write or Not to Write, That Is the Question

For the record, I am a very brave man. This is not just because I floss before bedtime and sometimes intentionally consume leafy green vegetables. No, it’s much more than that. My bravery blossoms from a single, bold writerly act. Some would call it courageous. Others daring or even heroic.

I would call it quitting.

Yes, after writing the first page of a story, I stopped. Totally up and abandoned the manuscript. Then, with equal doses of valor and cold-blooded resolve, I started to . . .

Outline.

[Cue gasps, groans, and eerie music.]

I am not an outliner. Every other story I’ve ever written has been a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants affair. At some point in the writing process I might skip ahead and write the ending to help guide the middle of my story, but planning each scene from the get-go? . . . Are you kidding me?!?!?!

Here’s a list of six things that made me change my ways (at least this one time):

  1. My last 50,000-word story underwent a ton of drafts, a couple with super-major plot revisions that required loads of rewriting as I uncovered new elements of my story on the fly. I liked the final results, but the process of getting there was painful. By creating a bare-bones outline for my newest story (a few sentences per chapter), I uncovered some surprises for myself before I had an entire plot to go back and overhaul.
  2. Revising a few sentences is easier than revamping a 50,000-word manuscript.
  3. I’m a slow writer. I’m an even slower reviser. Less time revising = more time writing.
  4. For a plot to push forward, I know every scene needs conflict and/or suspense to keep the reader engaged. By outlining, I ensured that each chapter was built around some form of tension, which provides the fuel for my story’s problem to keep chugging along on the road to the resolution.
  5. The outline also helped me look at the big picture of the story’s plot, making sure that the overall level of tension steadily increased scene-to-scene, pushing toward the resolution and climax.
  6. I figured outlining is like Brussels sprouts—it might not be that enjoyable at the time, but it’ll probably be good for me in the end.

My outlined story? It’s moving right along and feels way easier to write than anything I’ve ever written before. Will my plot change from my original outline as I progress? Undoubtedly. But it’s sure been nice to have a basic roadmap for the writing journey ahead.

Want a bit more perspective? MUFs own Linda Johns presented “The Case for Outlining” a few months back. Or do you have your own outlining versus seat-of-the-pants-writing viewpoint to share? Post your comments below.


T. P. Jagger The 3-Minute Writing TeacherAlong with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at www.tpjagger.com, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus original readers’ theatre scripts for middle-grade teachers.

Tips for November Writing Challenges

It’s almost November—do you know what that means? Many writers are getting ready for fun challenges, like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The goal is to write at least 50,000 words of a novel in November. When I first learned about NaNoWriMo, I didn’t think I’d be able to participate because I was finishing a revision on a middle grade novel. On November 7th, I completed my revision and thought of a shiny new idea. By the end of November, I ended up with over 60,000 words! As awesome as that was, I’ve learned that it’s better to have more than just an idea. Fleshing out my concept and making sure I have important plot points in mind really helps (even though it’s possible they’ll change as I get to know my characters better). Some people love to outline, but I’ve never been a huge fan of it for my work. My favorite tool is Joyce Sweeney’s Plot Clock. Here’s a post about it, and here’s another post that shows a picture of the Plot Clock.

ywp_logo-NaNoWriMo

Calling all teachers—did you know that there’s a NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program? Check out their Resources for Educators, where you’ll find their free classroom kit, lesson plans, and Virtual Classroom how-to. You can also find out how to connect with fellow educators.

If you want to participate in NaNoWriMo, but don’t know what to write about yet, here’s a post that can help you come up with new ideas.

Here’s a link to a helpful interview with author Dorian Cirrone. She has fantastic advice for brainstorming high concept ideas, how to come up with a great beginning, plus a writing exercise. Check out Dorian’s blog for her series on Ten Ways to Generate Ideas.

A lot of middle grade novels are way less than 50,000 words…so how can you write a middle grade novel and still be a NaNoWriMo winner? Well, I think anyone who makes great progress on a novel is a winner. Reaching the end of a first draft in one month is definitely a reason to dance around the room and treat yourself to some kind of special celebration (maybe delicious chocolate, a fun outing with family members you haven’t spent much time with because you were so busy writing, or possibly a massage to un-hunch your shoulders after all that hard work). After celebrating, I like to dive back in and hit that 50,000 mark. Here are a few ways that I’ve accomplished that:

  1. My first drafts used to have lots of dialogue, but only a small amount of description. To beef up my word count and add important sensory details, I’ve looked for areas that could use fleshing out and added more description to them. I’d often have to cut a lot of it in the first few rounds of revision, but loved how many gems I was able to keep. Find what you often lack in your first drafts (maybe it’s dialogue, you don’t increase tension enough, etc.) and see where you can add it into your draft.
  2. If you think a sequel could work for your story, jump in and start writing it to reach your 50,000 word goal. Just try not to get too invested in it, because any changes you make to the first novel could cause huge changes to any future ones—but it can’t hurt to play around with it. You might find ideas that could enhance your first book!
  3. Beginnings are so hard to get right, that I’ve gone back to write a bunch of different beginnings. Don’t be afraid to start in a completely different place. If you’re not sure which one is best for your novel, polish your favorite beginnings up after NaNoWriMo is over, then share them with your critique group or writing friends and see if there’s a clear winner.
  4. You could also start a new novel! Hopefully, you’ll have some ideas fleshed out and ready to go.

If you get stuck while working on your new project, here’s a link to Tricks to Defeat Writer’s Block.

For those of you who also write picture books, check out Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) where the goal is to come up with at least thirty shiny new ideas during the month of November. Then, you have plenty of ideas to choose from whenever you want to write a new picture book throughout the year.

If you have any tips to share or questions to ask, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you. Good luck with whatever goal you’re working toward this November. I hope the words flow!

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s TwitterFacebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.