The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Drama Queen

English: Municipal theatre Baden-Baden, German...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Recently I was teaching an all day seminar in writing for high schoolers at a local library. 

A few of the participants were serious about pursuing a fiction writing career. One of the young ladies asked me what kinds of writing classes she should take. 

To be frank, writing classes are okay for learning the techniques of good writing but there are classes outside of the English department that I think serve the writer well. 

  • Psychology classes to learn about how humans tick. 
  • History classes that teach research and might spur some great ideas for  novels set in the past. 
  • Photography classes that help you to really look at the world around you and help you define what you want in that lens - what stories you can tell with a single shot, removing all of the extra information. 
  • Travel! I told them. 
    • Find semesters abroad. 
    • Find American businesses that will let you intern in a foreign country. 
    • Learn a new language so your language skills become deeper. 

"But right now in high school," I said, "become a thespian."

Janet Evanovich will tell you that she believes her smooth dialogue comes from her time doing improv. LINK.  Ms. Evanovich learned a lot from the stage, and as I write, I too credit much of my personal style/technique to what I learned in theater classes with Mrs. Baugher, especially studying Stanislovsky's Method. LINK.

Through theater I learned to ask:

  • What is my motivation in this conversation?
  • What body gestures make sense? 
  • Where do I place my character in the defined space allotted vis a vis the others in the scene?
  • Body language!
  • Facial expressions - don't just say it, think it. Oh wait! That means I have to think through what I'm seeing instead of just thinking, "what's my next line?" Writing the thought process helps the reader grow with your character.
  • What is the dynamic between my character and my fellow characters?
  • What about the lighting/the mood as compared to other parts of the story line?
  • How is this scene important to the overall composition?
  • What do I need to convey here? How can I bring my audience with me as I move them through the story.
  • What would my costuming look like? How would the way a character is dressed effect their movements, how they see themselves?
  • What kinds of things would be in the room to help give information to the audience? What props would be on hand?
  • How do you block a fight scene? How do you break a scene down in a physical or  emotional fight?
  • How do you throw in a joke when things are dark to surprise the audience and make it stand out against a dark scene? How do you place a moment of poignancy in a light/funny scene for the same reason?
  • When do you let a character riff - and when does that just muddle things?

Tons of wonderful things that you learn taking a theater class (available through parks and recreations in many communities) and participating in plays, that have a place in your fiction.

In the end, a writer should write what they know. The more they know--the wider and richer their experiences--the better their prose. This I truly believe. 

Happy writing!


  1. Great advice. Thanks for sharing, Fiona. :) --- Suzanne

  2. I read a similar post before but yours boils it down to the essentials. This should be must reading for all beginning writers, not just those still in high school.

  3. Good stuff. I'm reminded that Robert Ludlum and Chris Claremont were both actors years before they were writers. Thanks for sharing, Sis.