Dramatic Forms in Creative Writing
A play or presentation, television story, film story, and similar sorts of writing are highly organized on the page but wild and free on the stage, so to speak. All writing is abstracted and disassociated from reality, but as you start to think creatively about your work for these dramatic forms, it really is very different, and the rewards are very different, too.
It may not be useful to talk about these writings in terms of the formats, the plots, character development, and so on. The reason is because they are so highly organized, a professional or a person who wants to write in these forms must not neglect to learn the rules of format, structure, etc. That can require a lot of study, even a lifetime. If you write a lot of stories, the same structural aspects of storytelling from your short stories, books, and so on, also apply to film and stage or television shows.
Amazingly, there is not a great deal of difference in the writing of a clever radio news program or advertisement and the writing of a stage drama or screenplay. There are always an opening, a middle, and some kind of wrap-up. So, in storyland, you, experienced or not as a writer, may already know this territory well. These are stories: They live, move, breathe. rock and roll, or whatever else they do. However, you are now dealing with more than mere words and seek not only to tell a great tale but to place actors and props on a stage, tell a film director where to point the camera, or film actors how to deliver their lines, as well as, perhaps, what airplane to jump out of and when. Now your writing is very organized, indeed, and you have to spend a lot of time just going through each moment of your play carefully, so as to bring forward the action and dialogue that makes it seem real for audiences.
It is a balancing act for the writer, creatively. The page is so dull and dry, and the stage or film needs to be alive, wonderful, or mysterious. Therefore, you play a mindgame with yourself as you write these kinds of works; there is no doubt you are a wonderful and vitally alive person, capable of all kinds of wonderful adventures and dreams of love or war. But there is that blank page. What gives it life?
For some, true enough, it is the money they may be paid for their imaginary fictional dramas and adventures. For others, it is the incomparable thrill of finally seeing their work on a real stage with real actors, or on film or television. It may be prestige, or it may be psychological. Whatever sustains you as you work through these technical formats, staging, props, rewriting lines of dialogue, and so on, this is your muse and wonderment as an individual. It makes the dry task of the actual writing fertile enough that the finished work as it is presented to real audiences is fully formed, alive, real, insightful, wonderful, or terrible, and all the other qualities audiences love about the dramatic forms. Maybe your motivation does not matter. It can be your devotion to your mother, father, or a favorite housecat; but finding that within yourself and keeping it healthy is the creative juice that makes it all work.
It is harder with the dramatic forms because often, sadly, they never are produced. On the night my first play was presented to an audience in San Francisco in 2006, my wife and I drove about 400 miles just to see it. This was a half-hour play, along with another 40-minute play presented at the same festival. I had written both pieces on speculation, never really knowing if they would find a home or be seen by anyone at all. But I was fond of them, I liked them on the page, and when I read them aloud myself. To be honest, I would have paid to see them produced on my own if I could have, just for the experience.
There was a wonderful theatre troupe performing all of the material for this weeklong festival. On the night my two plays were presented, there was only an audience of about 30 people. But the young actor who gave life to my half-hour, one-man comedy was enthusiastic and an excellent performer. The audience roared with laughter as my wife and I sat astounded by it all. Previously it had existed on the page or in my head or had been read aloud by my wife and me at home after dinner. Now these generous people had truly brought it to life. If you need to be motivated, because stage plays are not very high-paying, I can attest that the thrill my shaggy old ego received was just what the doctor ordered. I soon was writing even more plays.
It is a long road from the seed of an idea about a story to the realization on the screen or stage. A screenplay is even more difficult; it literally can take many years to even begin to hope to see your favorite original screenplay considered for production. So it is a long-haul deal, in terms of creativity and energy, even a lifestyle. Maintaining a creative edge for this period of time, for a lot of people, just is not worth it. However, writers who seek a quick buck in films or television never amount to much, anyway. Maybe they have a friend in the business and get a quickie deal on a cheap film, and that does happen. But if you start out seeking that one-time quickie, you may be disappointed. Will you really find it? Or will disappointment and frustration settle things long before you have the chance?
Those dramas and television shows, movies, audioplays, kiddy productions at a church camp or disability-recovery center really are a way that people amuse themselves and share valued insight. It is a pastime that dates back to the ancient world. Much like any writing, if the creative bug bites you and you are glad about it and willing to keep going for a while, you will know why you do it. You will learn how the energy of it all works, and you will be glad you did.
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