Friday, 20 November 2009

From Script To Prose

Doing NaNoWriMo has seen me talking quite a bit about how I write - and as with so many things, having nattered on about something for a while, I eventually start to actually think about it.

One of the things I've realised is that my writing style is strongly influenced by my background hanging around backstage in theatres writing plays.

When I was writing scripts, I was also involved in theatre companies in various capacities (always behind the scenes) and learnt first hand just how much directors hate to be told what to do. That goes for stage directions in the script as much as being given 'advice' (as they often seemed to take it) on budgetary constraints.

So I learnt to write scripts with an absolute minimum of stage directions. I'd start off with the bare bones of dialogue, and mention an action or a movement only if it was absolutely critical to the plot (things like a kiss, or a slap, spring to mind).

I haven't changed that part of the process.

I still write the dialogue first, then do a second pass to add 'stage directions' - but now, to get closer to a novel, I do yet another run-through while adding actual prose. It might take me five or six passes, in the end, to get to a level of description and detail that I'm happy with. Given that most NaNo participants (and, so far as I can tell, writers in general) adhere to the mantra of 'no editing while writing', this may be slightly contraversial, but it does mean I tend to get a fairly readable first draft.

Amphitheatre at the University of Colorado

Another tendency I've inherited from the stage is to put chapter breaks at scene changes. I read a fascinating post the other day on ending a chapter, which gave me a lot of food for thought, and I suspect I may want to rearrange my chapters anyway in the final edit. But for now, they go wherever seems logical, and to my theatre-trained mind that's "when we need to move some set around".

Doing a preliminary casting of my characters (in my head, of course) is another trick I picked up in the theatre. There are probably other habits I'm not even aware of.

I'd love to know more about how other people approach the writing process. Have you thought about what influences your style?


Chef E said...

Funny, but I grew up with a love for musicals, and old movies, the really good ones! So when I write, I pretend as if I see all the characters are right in front of me. With poetry, I look at things, and simplify my surroundings...I guess this one creative writing teaching used to tell me 'short and sweet', and no filler, so it stuck.

I always wanted to be on stage and do drama. Believe it or not, I was quiet and shy until my twenties, so I did not pursue art as I would have liked, so latent talents arrive...

Lilian Nattel said...

It's a complete mystery to me. Somehow it happens. It takes a long time. There are many drafts and from draft to draft I change most of what I've written in every way. And somehow in the end there is a book. God only knows how.

Diane said...

I think what most influences my style is my incredibly short attention span! I write primarily in essay format... you MIGHT be able to squeak a short story out of me... but anything longer? I'm hopeless! And I have 20 unfinished manuscripts to prove it! :)

Fly Girl said...

Interesting post. I have a lot of theater friends but they only write plays, never thought how it would affect fiction writing. As a trained journalist, I actually struggle greatly to write my short stories. Because I've been trained to gather facts first and then write, it's very hard for me to just pull from my imagination. I always want some sort of reference to work from, even its my memories, then I have to research them! Even with my blog, I have to do a little research before I can write the shortest post. It's very time consuming and stilting I've tried to get away from this with my other writing but I haven't been successful yet.

Shai Coggins said...

Ah, should've known you're doing NaNo too! I just added you in my Buddy list. Looks like you're nearly done. Yay, you! :-)

julie70 said...

perhaps, it is time now to dare go also on the stage not only behind the scenes

Simon said...

The only things I’ve ever written are very short stories for my blog – usually humorous satires – so haven’t had to suffer the problems of writing anything longer than about 5000 words. I have great admiration for those who manage to do so!

By the way, your comment about ending chapters reminds me of how Terry Pratchett writes his books without any chapters, just ‘scene changes’ marked by a few blank lines and an indicator like an asterisk. The individual ‘scenes’ can be any length at all, avoiding the feeling that chapters should all be roughly equal in length.

christine said...

I like to whizz back and forth within a draft and change at will, but, of course, with a degree course, you must produce evidence of re-drafting, and it's been a long, hard slog to remember to save my document as a new one before I amend anything.

I have to admit, it's actually a good idea -cos when you get to draft 15 and realise that your ideas at draft 7 were the best, at least they are to hand immediately:)

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