From Stage Play to Mind Play.

by Alec Brenneman

I like to consider myself as a writer who can write anything—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, film scripts, play scripts, etc., etc. So far I’ve done it all, with success even: I have finished products. Nothing of mine has yet been published, but a finished piece of writing is better than an incomplete piece, which, to me, is a success. However, this semester I have faced probably one of my toughest challenges yet: writing a novel.
I am very comfortable writing stories in script format—either for the screen or the stage; it doesn’t matter. One of the novels I’m working on this semester, I had previously written as a two-act stage play. Transforming it into a novel is proving to be more difficult than I imagined. Along the way, I have come up with 3 rules for myself to live by as I continued to transcribe the piece.
Make sure your story will work in novel form.
Perhaps the biggest struggle I have run into with this transference of entertainment has been my story. In the play, the characters are very aware that they are in fact in a play. This is much easier to write than characters that are aware they are in a novel. There are comedic scenes in which a character will reference the closeness of a stage prop or new set design or even incorporate the audience. It’s almost as if the audience is actually a character. In my situation, my play was not easily transcribed into a story unless I had more than enough time to work on it. A lot of the comedy was lost in translation. However, I soon came up with the idea to change narrators, or give it one rather. The story was just a third person narrative. Now it’s being told from the eyes and thoughts of the director/writer sitting in the audience of the play as it’s being performed. From that point, the story has worked out thus far.
Go ahead and write the dialogue first.
The easiest way for me to tell is story is through dialogue and action. I don’t care about what’s going on around the characters or what everything looks like. I just need to know what’s being said, the situation they’re in, and important details. Getting all of this down is the most important thing. When you have all of this down, then go back and write your “bringing a tear to a hardened man’s eye” description. At this point, you have finally accomplished completing the story (success!), and your stress is essentially gone. Just write the play in prose. Stage directions are now character movements. Sets are now scenery. Character dialogue now has embellished dialogue tags along with actual character movements. This is the time you guide the actor. Tell them everything they are doing.
The 3 D’s: Description, DESCRIPTION, and description.
This rule is meant to be put in use after Rule 2 is complete. Novel writing is where you let your imaginations run wild and you write captivating description. Play writing is about writing a compelling story. The director collaborates with the set designer to figure out the scenery. The writer just puts the scene in a place with maybe a few specific props. You have to be able to tell the audience precise details. Example: for a novel, just saying, “they are in a castle” doesn’t cut it for everyone. It probably doesn’t even cut it for most people. You need to be able to describe the castle. Where are the doors? Where does the king sit? The queen? Is it a trashy castle or is it elegant? Is it made of stone? Gold? Chocolate? This all needs to be made clear. I’m not saying describe every last dust particle, but knowing there is dust along the shelves says something.

[Editor’s Note: Tune in tomorrow to hear Aaron Wittwer discuss inspiration and influence. – Lauren Burch]

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One Comment on “From Stage Play to Mind Play.”

  1. Lauren Burch says:

    I had such difficulty writing screenplays I was proud of when I took screenwriting courses, because creating a screenplay is, as you discussed, so different from creating a novel! I know your post talks about the transition from script to prose, but I like that it can also be read backwards, as if to instruct what to remove from text to adapt it to a play.


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