Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Direct Your Book

"Before I write down one word, I have to have the character in my mind through and through.  I must penetrate into the last wrinkle of his soul." Henrik Ibsen

Over the weekend I attended the monthly meeting of the Ohio Valley Romance Writers (, and the program featured award winning author, playwright and actress, Leanna Renee Hieber (  Be sure to read The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker and The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker, both Gothic Victorian Fantasy Romances by Ms. Hieber, now available from Dorchester Publishing.

Ms. Hieber presented a fantastic workshop entitled, "Direct Your Book: Theatrical Techniques Towards a Blockbuster Book."  As the title suggests, she demonstrates how you can incorporate theater techniques into your writing.

As an author, you are also a:
  • Cinematographer -  By describing the setting, as well as providing the mood and ambiance
  • Director - By setting the stage and establishing pace and viewpoint
  • Actor - By describing your characters, revealing their motivation and intent, and writing their dialogue
  • Marketing Director - By writing your "movie poster quote," your one line pitch, defining your brand and choosing best how to present you and your work.  Gone are the days when the writer could sit at his computer all day in sweats and slippers while a publicist did all the marketing!
Ms. Hieber pointed out some important questions that actors (and authors) must ask of their characters:
  • What is my motivation?
  • How am I going to get what I want? (Intention/tactics)
  • What is the conflict? (or, What's keeping me from getting what I want?)
  • What's my environment and how is it affecting me? (Context)
She emphasized the importance of never forgetting your characters, and that the environment itself is a character.  Think about (the red earth of) Tara in Gone with the Wind, or the cyclone in The Wizard of Oz.  Tara is motivation for Scarlett.  Keeping the plantation from being sold drives her to make decisions hurtful to others, such as tricking her sister's beau into marrying her so his money could pay the property taxes.  The cyclone is dangerous, yet brings Dorothy to a different world where she learns valuable lessons.

Ms. Hieber ended her workshop by touching on some viewpoints expressed by Anne Bogart, author of A Director Prepares.  While writing, consider the following nine elements and ask yourself if you can use any of them for greater dramatic advantage.

1. Spatial Relationship - What's your set up? How close or how far apart are your characters? What position would create the greatest amount of friction between them?
2. Kinesthetic Response - How can you use, for instance, a loud noise, to show a character  flinch, scream or show some other reflexive or gut reaction?
3. Repetition - Repetition creates history. The reader comes back to something he's seen before. Can be used for symbolism or foreshadowing.
4. Floor Pattern/Topography - Blocking to display mood and setting.  For example, when writing about a nervous character pacing, how can you show him moving through that space?
5. Tempo - Pacing, is it fast or slow?
6. Architecture - Physically, what does the space look like in your piece? Describe the environment.
7. Duration - How long does something last?
8. Shape - Bodies have shapes.  What do your characters look like as they sit or walk?
9. Gesture - How do your characters hold their hands? Do they have nervous or happy gestures? Is there any form of nonverbal communication between any of your characters?

Ms. Heiber recommends  A Director Prepares, as well as the following books to open up your writing and general artistic process:
Playing Shakespeare by John Barton
Audition by Michael Shurtleff

I can't say enough good things about the workshop! It was an afternoon well spent and I took away some valuable writing advice.  Hope what I've shared will be useful to you!

Have you ever realized that theater techniques could translate into writing a better novel?

Tweet me @:maria_mckenzie.  Thanks for stopping by!


Ane Mulligan said...

As a former creative art director and a published playwright, I used my experience there when I turned to novel writing. Good post and great advice! The character analysis sheet I now use for fiction is the one I developed for my drama troupe to use for characterization.

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, Ane. Thanks for your comment! What a great background you have to become a novelist:).

Kathryn said...

These are some really good notes. I actually needed to read this today - thanks, Maria!

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, Kathryn. Glad you found this information useful!

William Kendall said...

Great tips, Maria!

Maria McKenzie said...

Thanks, William!

Pk Hrezo said...

Great info! Thanks for sharing it!

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, PK! Thanks for visiting:).

Norma Beishir said...

Most writers I know get to know their characters intimately before they start writing. It didn't work for me, so I start with basics and learn about them as I go, as I would with someone real.

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, Norma! I'm like that, too. I start with the basics. The more I write about the characters, the more they reveal themselves to me.

Name: Holly Bowne said...

This is such great advice! Right now I struggle a bit trying to imagine the book I'm writing as a movie playing in my head, but I know that's what I need to do! Thanks for the helpful tips.

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, Holly! Glad you can use these tips!