Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Theatre Shadows

Recently, my writing group was critiquing a scene in a chapter of my novel involving my main character's preparation to take the stage in a play.  Two members of our group are actors, but the other three have no experience in the backstage world, so the questions and suggestions were varied, but all of them agreed that I needed to give the reader more.

I worked on the paragraphs for an entire afternoon and, thinking I'd done what they'd suggested, I asked one member - a fellow actor - to read the altered scene.  He said he thought I could still do more.  As I sat staring at the computer screen that presented the words I needed to make better, it suddenly hit me:  what I have taken for granted most of my life is alien to many people - the shadows of the theatre and what they mean to an actor.

Since I was first on the boards at the age of seven, and have hardly known a year of my life that hasn't involved acting, dancing, directing, managing or producing, everything about the world of theatre is as second nature to me as breathing.  That's what made writing the scene so hard - I needed to stand back from it and view it through a reader's eyes; a reader who understood nothing about the situation.  I had to not only give them a visualization of the scene, but put them in the character's head so they could relate to her actions.

Standing on a silent stage, in the shadow of a set, anticipating the moment when audience and actor connect is unique and difficult to express.  I was surprised by how those paragraphs slowed me down.  It was so obvious to me that I made the biggest mistake a writer can - telling, not showing - and losing my audience.

A writer has an obligation, if they want their work to engage the reader, to keep revising until they get it right.  So I kept at it and, just like those theatre shadows that can reward an actor for all their preparation, I'm now satisfied that my words have finally woven into the right pattern that will put the reader where I want them; feeling what my character feels in that theatre.

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