Thursday, February 3, 2011

Playwright or Play at Writing Plays?

I got a compliment at a recent critique group meeting. Or at least I am taking it as a compliment. It was couched in a criticism of my descriptions of characters and setting. To use the vernacular, I suck at descriptions. And my critiquer agreed. But the compliment came in the form of what we in the school-discipline business called a “re-direction.”

“I see you as a playwright. You are so plot-driven. You write great dialogue. In your play, that comes out. I can see why it is harder for you to do the descriptions in novels. That is not your focus.” Or something sorta kinda like that.

So, am I a natural playwright, thereby giving me permission to ignore setting except in the case of stage directions, costuming, and set design? Or am I a non-observer who hides behind scenes and acts and minimal stage directions, incapable of taking my reader to where my characters are?

Hmm. Knotty problem, eh?

But does it matter? Well, yes, if I continue to write novels, it matters a great deal. If I just want to write plays, maybe lack of description is less important. I hope Neil Simon reads this post. I’d like him to chime in on this topic.

Oh, here he is now! ***

Sharon: Neil, may I call you Neil? I was almost in your play, Rumors, but you wouldn’t give us permission to clean up the language so we had to ditch it for another play.

Neil: My play, my rules. Too bad, so sad.

Sharon: Well, nice of you to drop by. So what do you think? Is my apparent inability to describe characters and setting a detriment in writing plays as it is in writing novels?

Neil: I don’t write novels.

Sharon: Right. I knew that. What I meant was, do you think it is important to know your setting and character descriptions for plays as well as you do for novels?

Neil: Duh!

Sharon: Could you expand on that a bit?

Neil: The better you can see your characters, the richer the setting is to you, the easier it is to write dialogue that is consistent with your play. Isn’t that true with novels as well?

Sharon: Yeah, I see that, but how can I write better descriptions so my reader sees all I see?

Neil: That’s why I write plays. I can imagine it all, but I don’t have to put it down for the world. Plays are interpreted by directors and actors all the time. You ever wonder why so many people watch the same play multiple times?

Sharon: So, you’re saying . . .

Neil: I’m saying, good luck with that novel stuff. Gotta run.

Sharon: Uh, bye. Thanks for stopping by . . . Well, now what? Advice from anyone else?

*** C’mon! You didn’t really think that was Neil Simon, now did you???

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