I like plays. I enjoy them because they are the closest thing I know to live storytelling. A play creates an intimacy between playwright, actor, and audience that is unmatched by any other medium.
I saw a performance recently. I won’t mention who wrote it, or where I saw it because although I came away much enlightened, I’m sure it was not in the way the playwright or the actors intended. Just the same I’m glad I went. I rediscovered once again that there are certain fundamentals to storytelling, to writing in general, and to live performances that must be followed if they are to be successful.
If one cannot hear the words because the actor is speaking with insufficient volume, or the words are slurred and hard to make out, the listener cannot understand what is being said, and the performance will fail.
Translated into the medium of the written word, the writer must first be clear in his or her mind about what is being written. Only then can it be put down clearly and easily understood by the reader.
In this particular play, dripping water was used backstage to show that the roof leaked. This was a nice touch by the set designer, but rather than being a brilliant accent, it became the focus when the leak turned into a deluge, and the key actors, who were in the middle of an important dialogue, turned their backs to the audience and continued to speak. What turned out to be a vital part of the plot was lost and the connection with me, at least, disappeared.
In writing, one should make a point and then another point, giving each the proper emphasis and space so that the logic can be followed and the overall point made. Running scenes together when they should be separate, or focusing on what is unnecessary, detracts from the story and confuses the reader.
A writer is, in essence, a director. Directing the reader’s attention is what a writer does. The writer determines what the reader senses, and how it will be presented.
The way the set was designed and directed created problems. It became the play. Unfortunately, it was not the play the audience was there to see.
Writers can make a similar mistake by not placing the proper emphasis on the story. It is the story and how it is told that creates the connection with the reader. For me, it is that connection that ultimately is the point of writing in the first place.