Tuesday, June 16, 2015

5 Tips for Turning a Short Story into a Short Play into a Short Story

As I wrote on June 3rd, I tried play writing as a challenge and arrogantly assumed it was easier than novel writing. Ha!

Well, having my comeuppance was good for me, but I continue to write short plays, some of which I created out of short stories I’ve written and some are original short plays that I can turn into short stories. My tips for doing that are further down.

I got a compliment at a 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. In your plays, 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 (HA!), 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. But, no, that’s not it, either.

The better I can see my characters, the richer the setting is to me, the easier it is to write dialogue that is consistent with my play. And that would be true with novels as well, right?

But maybe that’s why I like to 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 with different actors? Maybe it is that interpretation, the nuanced scenes.

So how do you write a short play from a short story? The process of turning one into the other is pretty simple. Here’s how I do it:

How to adapt a short story to a short play:
1) Read over your short story synopsis.
2) Identify 3-5 key ideas in the short story,
3) Identify characters needed for the key ideas.
4) Pick out dialogue from the short story that carries the key ideas.
5) Paralleling the short story, write scenes and link them with transitions.

It’s that easy. I can go the other way, too. I have written original short plays that can be short stories simply by expanding the range of scenes and characters a wee bit.

Give it a try if you haven’t. Let my know how it goes for you.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Guest Post: Three Things You Need to Know When Writing for Children and Teens

Anna Questerly shares her insights to help you be a successful writer for a youth audience. She has created some wonderful tales for young readers so she knows whereof she speaks. Anna has been a guest on Romance Righter, so she's one of my blogging pros. Welcome, Anna!

It’s a lot of fun writing for kids. I love their whole-hearted hugs during book signings and school visits, opening the sweetest handwritten fan mail—ever, and I have a bulletin board covered with colorful drawings of my stories I’ve received from my young readers.
For those of you who want to give it a go and gather your own hugs, here are three things I know about writing for this younger market. Fortunately, the first two, I knew before I started The Minstrel’s Tale Trilogy. After writing and rewriting those three novels and dozens of fairy tales, I finally learned the last lesson. While this knowledge came too late for The Minstrel’s Tale, I can, at least, save you some trouble.
First, and probably the most important thing, is to have the right mindset for your target audience. I don’t just write for kids; I write for smart kids. Knowing my readers are intelligent and already love to read, keeps me from ‘dumbing down’ my vocabulary or my concepts. (Of course, if you use unfamiliar words, you try to make the meaning clear in context, just as you would for adults.) Since every writing book warns against writing down to kids, this seems to be one of the biggest mistakes new writers make in writing for children. By changing my mindset from the start, this was never a problem for me. Plus, an additional benefit is that adults enjoy my books too.
Second, the mechanics of story-telling are the same as for adult writing. Story structure, character development, dialogue, and narrative, all of the devices we use when we write for grown-ups come into play in writing for kids. There are no short cuts simply because your readers are younger.
As you can see, so far, other than adjusting for content, there’s really no difference writing for kids versus adults. Ah, but there is—the lesson I learned too late.
Once I finished rewriting and editing my trilogy, I began to send out query letters to agents and publishers who specialized in books for children. I was beyond excited to get three requests for the full manuscript right away. Then, I was devastated when I received their gracious rejection letters.
The gist of the rejections: “This isn’t a children’s book.”
Fortunately, I was able to have a conversation with one of the publishers. This isn’t exactly how it went, but it’s close enough.
“What?! Of course it’s for kids—it’s half-filled with fairy tales!” I argued.
“Nope. A children’s book must have a protagonist the same age or a bit older than the target reader. Your main character is a forty-year-old minstrel. Therefore, not a children’s book,” he informed me.
“But what about Snow White, Cinderella, Gulliver’s Travels, The Hobbit?”
He shrugged. “Those are classics. Feel free to submit your next manuscript, but this isn’t for us. Have a nice day, now.”
Later, I fumed to my friends. “What a ridiculous box! Who made that silly rule and why was I never told about it? It wasn’t in any of the books I’d read on writing for kids. No one mentioned it in the writing workshops I’d taken. Stupid rule!”
I considered rewriting it with a younger main character, but decided to self-publish instead. After all, an entire 5th grade class beta read the first book, and they loved it. I’m glad I did. I like my minstrel, Amos, and the kids do to, too. But the next book I write for kids will have a younger protagonist. Lesson learned.
As a matter of fact, my most recent book, Pangaea: a Utopian Fantasy, was written for the new adult market, and I made sure my main character was exactly twenty-years-old.
The essence of this lesson is to know the confines of your genre. If you’re going to submit to the big publishers, you’d better stay in your box. If you decide to break out of the it, you’ll probably need to self-publish. Isn’t it great that’s an affordable option now?
I hope these tips help you with your next book. Good luck and keep on writin’!
Contact Anna:

Bookseller and bibliophile turned author, Anna Questerly writes medieval fiction and fairy tales for smart kids and young hearts. For adults, she creates Utopian fantasy as A.J. Questerly.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Year of Becoming a Playwright

One year I decided to challenge myself by trying a new writing form. Like I had mastered the novel, right? Har de har har. Still, I love to learn new things.

I happened into this avenue of fiction serendipitously. After nearly 45 years out from my last theater experience, I auditioned for a community theater production in northern Arizona. To my delight (and fear), the director picked me for a role. I was thrilled that I might still have some of that acting spark I displayed decades ago, but I had crushing fear that I would no longer be able to learn lines. I did learn my lines, entry and exit cues, and increased my vocabulary with stage craft terms like downstage, stage right, and proscenium. 

However, I was cast as a 24 year-old nurse. I hadn’t seen 24 for four decades! Still, in community theater, who shows up for auditions is who gets cast. One of my writing group partners (also cast in a show—as a 20 year-old) and I realized there must be a niche for plays with older cast members. Relatively few of these plays are available to community theater groups in age-restricted areas. So, we decided we would write plays with older characters.

“How hard can it be?”, I wondered aloud to any and all who would listen to me blather on about my writing efforts. After all, I had several completed novels under my belt. Plays are a bunch shorter than a novel! Pshaw! Bring it on.

Playwrighting? Oh, the arrogance was palpable!

I had planned that summer to be the summer to finish a novel I had begun years ago. But, that didn’t happen. The play consumed my summer as surely as a whale dining on krill.
I read about scriptwriting. I learned proper play formatting and that it is different from screenplay formatting. But the thing I learned best, the most humbling thing, was that writing a play is darned hard work. And I didn’t just dash it off in a week or two as I had thought, in my arrogance, I would.

In my novels, I have paragraphs explaining the setting or character motivation or revelations that lead to plot points. I have words, lots and lots of words.

In a play, other than the set design and some stage directions that a director may or may not attend to, all you have is dialogue. The dialogue carries the story. Dialogue can’t be paragraphs long. It has to sound like real people speak since Shakespearean soliloquies are out of fashion and the Greek chorus disappeared long before Shakespeare.

I am delighted that I learned so many new things while completing my play, Ghost in the Pines. And, once the fourth draft was done, I shopped it around to various community theater groups to see if I could get it produced. Nope. I guess, like first novels, first plays are more of a learning adventure than a viable product. I may go back in, now years later, and see if a fresh eye can save what I thought was a pretty good premise. Whether or not it is ever performed, I learned a lot about writing dialogue that I transferred to novel writing. 

Additionally, I watch plays now to see how it was put together so that I can be a better playwright. What would the stage directions look like? Why is it important that the door open out? Oh, yes. The bug bit me. 

I took a workshop on writing one-act plays, I’ve given a workshop on writing one-act plays, I ran a contest judging one-act plays, and I have entered contests for one-act plays.
To date, three of my one-act plays have been performed by two different community theater groups. I have an idea for another full-length play and ideas for more short plays. Play writing is fun for me and a break from the novel writing I do. I find it recharges my batteries to work in a different form. 

If I keep it up, maybe some of them will be published and performed more widely. Hey! These plays could come to a theater near you!