Earlier this month I was paid a heartfelt compliment on my writing—a compliment authors everywhere aspire to hear from one of their devoted fans.
“You inspired me to write a stage play,” the gentleman said before breaking into a smile. “I figure if a knucklehead like you can do it, I should be able to write one, too!”
I shot my fan a thoughtful, dramatic pause while I formulated my reply. “Knucklehead?” I questioned him in my best Mo Howard impersonation. “So you’re a wise guy, eh? BONK!”
Truth be told, the gentleman’s statement is 100% accurate. Any knucklehead can write a stage play!
If you’re just starting out exploring the craft of creative writing—particularly fiction writing—then starting with a stage play may be a good first step because you’ll focus on two key building blocks of other forms of writing: plot and dialogue.
Unlike short stories, novellas or novels, you generally won’t incorporate some of the more challenging elements of writing into your stage play—like tapping into the readers’ five senses—that otherwise are mandatory for good reading. Your stage play is meant to be visualized by an audience. If your story is western-themed and set in the 1800s, there’s generally no need to describe the aroma of burning horse flesh as it’s pressed with the red-hot cast iron brand from a cattle rancher. That is, of course, unless it’s instrumental to your story and then needs to be spoken by one of your characters. Most likely, you’ll just substitute a few stage directions that instruct the actor to pull a branding iron from the fire and jab it at the rear-end of your on-stage horse. But, the process of writing stage directions will start training your mind on how you would indeed tap into your readers’ senses if you were writing a short story or novel.
No doubt about it, you’re already familiar with dialogue. You already know how to be witty, coy, sarcastic, and evasive. As humans, we do it every day. It’s like we’re all born to be playwrights! But don’t be fooled, it’s not necessarily easy to write good, realistic, smoothly-spoken dialogue. It takes some practice.
As you begin to read your stage play dialogue you’ll come to learn what realistic dialogue sounds like versus forced dialogue. When you’re writing your first draft and you realize a character says something like, “Okay, I’m leaving the house now, goodbye,” remember this article and remind yourself that you’ll come back later to fix that line in your next revision.
So, what exactly does burning horse flesh smell like, anyway?