This is the start of a series of blogs on approaching writing from the eye of a theatre director.
Drama and writing have a lot in common: emotional impact, timing, focus, atmosphere and mood, and of course characterisation.
Using these elements, a director builds up a play (or indeed a film) moment by moment. The moments add up to a coherent whole, which is governed by an overarching mood line – opening, ups and downs, climax, resolution and denouement (which simply means winding down and wrapping up loose ends).
Similarly, a good story consists of a series of moments in time through a person’s life. It’s not a whole life story. It’s a sequence of incidents that occur during a particular time, and they follow a logical sequence – opening, ups and downs, climax, resolution and denouement.
Each incident has its own sequence of actions that build it up. Taken moment by moment, the incident then adds drama to your story.
Thought of as a whole, a play, film or story can be boiled down to a basic theme. “Boy wizard takes on arch enemy” describes Harry Potter briefly.
Your story consists of a series of happenings within that theme.
Now this is the key. Things happen. All too many stories told by beginners and children don’t actually have anything happening. If nothing happens, you have no story. When something happens, it needs to be approached moment by moment.
The trick, which works with kids, is to think of an incident like the moving frames of a film. Each frame captures a moment. If you froze the frame, you’d see the moment in detail. Moving along a few frames at a time, you would see each moment building into an incident.
Example: We see Harry throw a spell at Voldemort. We see Voldemort’s face and his reaction. We see the wand in his hand move. We see the returning spell. We see Harry’s face and his reaction as he tries to hold his spell against it.
In writing, you can use sentence structure to create that effect. Sentence structure quizzes can help with this.
“Harry threw the spell at Voldemort. It hit him in the face. He recoiled, his features contorting. The wand moved in his hand. Green fire flew from it. Harry caught the beam, struggling to hold his own steady. He was panting with effort.”
See how the short sentences grab your attention?
JK Rowling never wrote these words, by the way! It’s just an illustration made up to show you what I mean. But isn’t this more exciting than just saying what happened?
“Harry threw his spell at Voldemort and Voldemort retaliated and Harry had to struggle to keep his spell going.”
This is a simple description of the action of that little incident. Instead of describing it, you take that piece of action and break it up, moment by moment, saying what is happening at each point.
And that’s how you build up your story. Why not have a go!
Once you’ve finished writing, you may like to take a look at Education Quizzes’ Knowledge Bank. It has answers to questions about education and all aspects of schooling. It also has dozens of articles packed with advice and tips for parents. It’s the place to go if you want to find out about the ins and outs of education.
Coming from professional theatre, Elizabeth Bailey taught drama for many years alongside her writing career. Multi-published, she now writes full time, both her own novels and ghostwriting, as well as critiquing for other writers.