Thursday, July 30, 2009

All the World's A Stage ...


by Kelli

"How do you write? Outline or free-form?"

I guess the easiest way to explain it is this: I write like an actress. I started acting and writing at about the same time -- maybe acting came a little earlier, if you count traipsing around the house pretending to be Marlo Thomas in That Girl. ;)

When I was young, I planned to launch a career in the the-ah-tah, and majored in Drama for a time, and studied craft, and memorized my monologues and bestrode the stage in Greek tragedy and Shakespearean comedy. Eventually, I realized that the life style wasn't for me--let's just say I don't do rejection well. Of course, that's why I became a writer ... ;)

Y' see, creativity, like murder, will out. I tried to channel it intellectually, but there was a reason why I enjoyed translation more than pottery analysis, and why the thought of pursuing a Ph.D. in Classics--as honorable as it is--gave me hives. And so, I found myself at a--well, let's just say "adult" age--plunging into a creative career, this time prepared for rejection. Kind of. ;)


I bring up the back story because it is the method in my madness (no pun intended). When you're on stage, you function on two levels simultaneously ... the conscious awareness of blocking, lights, your colleagues' cues, the audience's reaction. And then there's the subconscious, addictive part, the mad heroin rush of sensation, of losing yourself, of becoming someone else entirely ... You're so deeply in a part you have a hard time shaking it off afterward ... you dream in your character ... and you know what it's like to have your city razed, be sold into slavery, or plot to murder your husband's friend ...

In comedy, the conscious awareness is more acute. Timing is everything, and the sympathetic, magical immersion in another identity not as complete. Which is why I preferred to act in drama or tragedies, as fun as it is to make people laugh. I confess it here: I preferred to make them cry. Not because I wanted to make people unhappy, but because the sense of a double catharsis--theirs and mine--was a heady, opiate high that defies description.


It is, however, akin to writing. Because when I write, I act. I'm in a life-and-death situation with my protagonist, her hand shaking, holding the small gun. I'm the elevator operator, scared to talk, with a kid on the way. I'm lying in an abandoned grave, victim of a brutal murder.

I immerse myself in characters, or they immerse themselves in me, whichever way it works. And if I kept to a tightly constructed outline, it wouldn't. Their actions would be predicted, forecast. Done.

However ... remember the craft part? I'm writing a thriller. That means pace, it means page-turning immediacy, it means things have to happen, and damn quick, too. So I outline--enough to construct plot arcs for the overall story line.

There are some things my conscious mind knows have got to happen, and I tap into that 30-35% of my awareness and take notes, zeroing in as I dig deeper into various chapters. And yes, I write from front to back, generally in acts or sections (like a play) and I'm mainly an early draft writer. My revisions are usually light, typically trimming and tightening.

It should come as no surprise that for me, the joy of writing is the exhilaration of losing myself, of living in a different world, a different time and place, of understanding and knowing what it's like to do the things my characters do, and making readers understand that, too. So do I outline? Yes--enough for a blueprint, a roadmark of hitting my marks and picking up my cues. Do I wing it? Of course ... every actor likes to improvise.

After all ... one writer, in her time, can play many parts. ;)

12 comments:

R.J. Mangahas said...

Ah yes, acting. All the world IS a stage, no?

It's funny you should mention the whole theater thing. When I would write scenes in plays, I would act out the scenes (I have some actor friends who I get together with sometimes to do this. It's great fun really).

When I write prose, I think of myself more as a director laying the ground work for my characters. Although, I have a no problem with stepping into my characters' shoes. Great, a writer, actor AND director. No wonder I'm nuts. >;-]

Jen said...

As a reader, it's always fascinating to hear how the characters and their stories come to life. They really are alive when I get into a "good" book. It's as though you close the book and expect to see them sitting there beside you. So, I guess that makes the writers kind of God-like, huh? Molding the clay, breathing the life, that sort of thing...;)

Shane Gericke said...

I never could figure out what That Girl saw in that Ted guy. Whadda wimp!

But RJ, you say you're nuts like it's a BAD thing :-) The greatest people in the world are kinda sorta nuts. If we weren't, we'd have real jobs like Cost Accountant or Sewerage Analyst.

Kel, I can see where acting and writing fiction are very closely connected. When I write scenes, I actually see my characters performing if on the screen, or on stage.

Kelli Stanley said...

Excellent analogy, RJ! :) As a writer, it's good to unleash our inner Orson Welles and do it all!

That's not nutty ... that's fun! ;)

xoxo

Kelli

P.S. Nothing hones prose dialog like writing screenplays or theatrical plays!

Kelli Stanley said...

Ah, Jen--I so agree with you! Believability of characters is what keeps me turning the pages. No matter how improbable the events, if I have character buy-in, I'm there. :)

But control over them is The Grand Illusion of the writer's life. :) True, we do get to make sure justice is served (usually), which is the most satisfying element we direct ... but characters pretty much play out themselves, unpredictable, and we're along for the ride. :)

I confess I get very sad when I'm done with the first draft. I know I won't be inhabiting that world for a while, and I really miss some of the people in it ... one reason I like to write series!

Thanks for the comment, sweetie! :)

xoxo

Kelli

Kelli Stanley said...

LOL--Shane, I totally agree! Ted was a wuss and always whining. He and Darrin Stevens were two of the most irritating men in 1960s television!

And re: writing ... isn't it cool when the movie plays out in your head? Catching it in a bottle and writing it down is the tricky part for me. ;)

Thanks, dear heart!!

xoxo

Kelli

Sophie Littlefield said...

I'm always so amazed at the extent of your knowledge about film and theater and how it all informs books. Kind of intimidated actually :) But it clearly works, just look at how your stories burst with energy

Kelli Stanley said...

Thank you, Soph darlin'! :) But the creator of Stella Hardesty should not be even kind of intimidated--by anything or anyone! ;)
As writers we all bring rich pasts along with us for the ride ... the tool kits we use for reaching inside and pulling out stories.

Look at CJ and her medical background, or Shane with journalism, or Becky in '80s Berlin or Tim's ad work or Gabi's law degree. And your Polish fairy tales and Midwest pragmatism and the observant noir attitude of being the outsider ...

We've all got history--and we use everything we have. And I'm constantly amazed and awed by the depth of knowledge and wisdom in our own group of Criminal Minds! :)

xoxo

Kelli

Jen said...

Oh Kel, don't be so hard on yourself...if God couldn't control Adam and Eve, how could you be expected to control your characters? ;)

Kelli Stanley said...

LOL ... that's an excellent point, Jen! ;)

Makes me feel much better, letting chaos rein (within reason). ;)

xoxo

Kelli

Shane Gericke said...

Hey, Kel, there's a topic we should tackle in the future: do we control our characters, do they control us, and how do we whip them into shape when they annoy us? Might be fun. Especially the whipping part :-)

Kelli Stanley said...

You're right, Babe! I think we've got it scheduled for an upcoming week ... can't wait to see how you keep those scary psychos under control. I'm still scared from your earlier post! :)

xoxo

Kelli