Monday, June 7, 2010

The Influence of the Theater: Symbolism and Blocking.

I am not exactly a theater buff but I sometimes take technical theater classes just for fun, and like to see plays when I get the chance. This last weekend I went to see King John with my sister(who is sometimes in plays herself and therefore an expert -- according to her at least) and as we drove home, discussing King John's crown and why she thought the two minor lords shouldn't have been the ones to hand him this all encompassing symbol of power because they did not themselves possess said power, something struck me.

My exposure to the theater has influenced a lot of the way I write.

It shouldn't really be that surprising. Everything in your life influences your writing in some way or another but there are two things that the people who seem to enjoy my writing will say about it. One is the subtle symbolism (sometimes unconscionably, but after I discover it I know that that was why I felt it needed to be there)in the characters surrounding and props and the other is the detail of my blocking. (aka beats, which I've always thought of as blocking long before I knew what beats were)I think both of these things are due to my dabbling with the theater.

A play is different than a movie in that the set is usually much more minimal and they can't do close ups to draw attention to a character's facial expression or a prop that will be important later. Everything is in the actors' movements. In what props the set designer chooses to use. And because there are so many actors and stagehands flying back and forth across the stage every time the curtain is down everything has to be there for a reason. It has to mean something or there is no point in tripping over it.

These are important things to keep in mind when you are writing a scene in a novel as well as a play. What are the characters' movements as they speak and what does it say about who they are and their part in the story? How does the set around them help express the mood (sometimes by contrast) or even insights to the character's true motives?

So now I have an excuse to go the theater more often.


  1. Excellent point! I never thought of it this way, but you're absolutely right.

    I do tend to think of my book as movies, in that I tend to write the story and show the scenes that you would see if it were a movie. Not because I want it to be a movie someday, but because that's just how it comes out of my head. My beats therefore tend to be the closeups of facial expressions, etc., but I really like the idea of thinking of it as blocking.

    I miss theatre! I wish I'd gotten more involved with it when I had the chance.

  2. Facial expressions are important too of course

  3. I've found that plays are an excellent venue through which to learn how to write better dialogue. I had that "ephiphany" while reading Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" I'm currently reading Wilder's "Our Town." Plays influence my novels as well, to the point where a couple of the scenes in my current draft novel are written as plays...I can do that...I'm a literary cubist :)

    Great blog, lots of thinking, shows a passion for the art and craft of writing.