Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Home thoughts from a board

No. It’s not a typo. Board as in the boards you tread.

Anne’s comment on my last post started me thinking (and about time, too). Back in the dim distant country called the early ‘70s, I trained in drama and theatre. I taught drama for a good number of years after that, did a small amount of professional acting, and a good deal more amateur work.

Although I am now a long way from the nearest theatre, I still enjoy reading plays, and I still enjoy reading works of theory. One of those returned to recently was Peter Brook’s The Empty Space. I had not opened this book for many years and was immediately struck by its relevance to what I do now – writing.

It is worth getting hold of a copy, along with other works like this on the theatre. And the reason is simple. Theatres and novels tell stories. Their methods may differ, but not in any substantial way. Reality, experience, understanding, and interpretation are structured to make a presentation of ideas and emotions to an audience.

Whilst the essence may be the same, the difference in method is instructive, and there is a great deal that writers could learn from stepping out onto the boards; even if only through the medium of the written word.

I was particularly struck by this when I thought back to something I posted earlier about having a visual approach to my writing. I play out scenes in my head. Now I think about it, I am doing for writing exactly what I used to do when directing. This carry-over of method results in a number of things that some writers may be missing out on.

How many writers, when planning a scene, do it in four dimensions? How many consider the physical space, the lighting, the environment (and how their characters fit in with and react to that), positioning of characters and their movement, costumes, props, sightlines, and timing. How many consider the scene (as in the physical space in which their characters move) to be as important as their characters? How many use methods of character building and portrayal with which an actor would be familiar?

I suspect many do, even if they do not think of it in those terms. But how many realise there is a huge amount of discussion from the theatre world that would provide a new and rich perspective to the way in which they create their work? Start with the Peter Brook that I mentioned. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it does give access to new horizons. Or maybe ask if you can sit in on rehearsals at you local amateur or professional theatre. See how they approach making their story come alive. It might add extra sparkle to your own techniques.

15 comments:

Anne Brooke said...

Gosh - that's got me thinking! Everything runs as a film/play in my head - even my own life! - but getting it down in writing is so hard.

A
xxx

Graeme K Talboys said...

Ah. Yes. The writing down bit. There's always a catch to this authoring lark.

I'm even going to dig out my Stanislavski and see if it sheds new light.

Cathy said...

I'm really hoping that A176 will help develop my prose writing. I don't see myself wanting to write plays/scripts in the future, but I anticipate just knowing how to could help with visualising scenes and writing dialogue.

Cx

Graeme K Talboys said...

Me too. Dialogue is the thing I'm most interested in, using it to carry more of the story.

Lane said...

This is interesting Graeme because script writing is so 'compacted' - no waffle, no long descriptions.

Cutting out the superfluous waffle is something I definately need reminding about:-)

Thanks!

Graeme K Talboys said...

I've always been fascinated by compact/condensed prose. It's not always an easy read, but seeing how much you can convey with a minimum of words is intriguing. Language is just the most amazing thing.

belle said...

I picked up a copy of Peter Brooks' The Empty Space while in Barter Books of Alnwick. Unfortunately I put it down again having already been seduced by the screenplay, introduction and film diary of Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet. He's definitely on my list though.

Graeme K Talboys said...

Well worth picking up again. It is a slim volume, but packed with insight into story telling.

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

I will look for that book, thanks Graeme. I already use Keith Johnstone's work on impro (Impro, and Impro for Storytellers) and - from a slightly different angle - Story by Robert McKee, which is about film rather than theatre but equally relevant for writers.

Graeme K Talboys said...

More great books.

liz fenwick said...

Thought provoking post post...I am totally visual when I write (if that makes sense) and your post phrased it all for me. Thanks :-)

Graeme K Talboys said...

It does. Visual, that is.

I wonder if writers see the world in the same way as artists, using a different medium to capture what we see?

liz fenwick said...

As I paint too, I think that may be true.....

KayJay said...

I couldn't agree more with your post. I trained and worked as an actor and I'm still in the theatre world - both Peter Brook and Keith Johnstone are certainly required reading for anyone who is 'making stuff up' in whatever capacity! I cannot help but think and write in four dimensions, although it does have its own pitfalls. Sometimes I find myself becoming distracted by detail or given circumstances and I'm certainly guilty of writing too much dialogue at times. What is important however, is to really get to grips with your characters' motivations, and that will certainly keep things moving in the right direction.

Graeme K Talboys said...

I'm glad I seem to have struck a chord here. These aspects of writing don't often get discussed. And I'm convinced there is a lot of good material to tap into beyond the standard Creative Writing books.