As promised, I’d like to continue with our talk about how to use theatrical elements from a real-life stage to make your novel or short-story scenes dynamic.
When you create a scene, it helps to visualize a physical place. I know, some of you are probably yawning. But, really, if you see your stage clearly, you will likely impart that clarity to your readers.
Some writers take photos, some take notes, some do a general sketch.
Because I’ve directed theater and music theater for a long time, I’m in the habit of imagining my story scenes as if they were set on a real stage.
My characters enter and exit at specific places on stage, move to their “spots,” handle props, and react to their environment: lighting, music, other characters, scenery, etc.
Nothing gets me out of another writer’s scene quicker than a confusing “place.” For example, I once read a scene where the main character was having a conversation inside an old hotel. During the dialogue, the main character and the secondary character moved outside to the city street. Only problem here was that the writer didn’t clue me, the reader, into the move from Point A to Point B, a very different environment. I was still picturing the interior of an old, elegant hotel, and was kind of jolted when the writer said that a nearby workman on a ladder dropped a can of paint which splattered all over the sidewalk and startled a horse, tied up at a hitching post. Obviously, the writer “saw” the scene change in his mind, but forgot that readers had not formed the same picture.
This is why I recommend constructing a makeshift stage (some writers actually build a diorama), or drawing a diagram for each new scene so that you don’t forget to include all the essential physical components so necessary for the audience.
The diagram also helps you remember to include how your Charlie or Miranda will enter the scene, where they move to, where else they move, who else is on stage during the scene, how they end the scene (in place, or exiting).
I know these points seem basic, but the “stage” helps you, the writer, create realistic and logical movements for each character.
Here’s a basic diagram of a stage:
Note that “stage right” and “stage left” are for the characters on the stage, not the audience.
After you’ve familiarized yourself with your stage, take little pieces of paper with your characters’ initials and place them where they begin the scene. I know a writer who uses game pieces to represent her characters
Are there other characters on stage?
Where are they situated?
Consistency in action
I read another scene where the writer had the main character dash from his car in the hospital parking lot, enter an ER admitting room, then hurry over to the nurse’s desk. Suddenly, two other sympathetic characters began to converse with the main character, with no mention of how they came into the scene. The three then had their conversation while seated in the middle of the waiting room. Wait! Weren’t they just standing at the nurse’s triage desk? Then, the main character stated that he needed to return to his car, got up and walked in the opposite direction of the entrance and…exited.
It’s easy to make these kinds of mistakes if we don’t clearly envision our scene. I know, I’ve done it, too.
Now physically move your characters to the places they need to be. In theater terms, this is called “blocking.” Take into account the obstacles in their path: other people in a crowded store, tables and waiters in a restaurant, rocks and trees in a mountain scene, for example.
It’s helpful to read some theater scripts to see how they give directions in between dialogue, such as:
- Susan enters up stage right immediately after the scream.
- Harry takes a seat center stage.
- Guadalupe exits down stage left after placing the loaded gun on the coffee table.
- Vlad tiptoes toward up stage left.
Consistency of Stage Direction
Another mistake I’ve made in my outdoor scenes was not having a clear idea of compass directions. For example, one of my characters drove south from Denver, yet saw the Rocky Mountains over her left shoulder. Hmmm. Well, I guess she could have been sitting backwards while driving with her hands behind her back. Not! Thankfully, I caught that gaffe before the scene went to my writer’s critique group.
10 key questions for your stage diagram and blocking:
- Where does your scene take place?
- What does it look like?
- What physical things need to be in this scene, and where?
- Who’s in this scene?
- How do they enter the scene?
- How, when, where do they move?
- Where do you see them on stage: upstage, downstage, off to the side?
- Do characters enter or exit during the scene? When, how, where?
- Where are your characters at the end of the scene?
- Are all elements of this scene consistent from beginning to end?
These theatrical elements seem kind of obvious, but by drawing a diagram and checking off your scene elements, you are, in essence, proofreading your scene.
After you’ve made sure you haven’t left anything out of your stage diagram, you can begin the more challenging and enjoyable aspects of theater. Stay tuned for that.
I wish you blessings on your writing.