I am honoured to welcome one of my favourite Crooked Cat authors to my blog today. Catriona King is a versatile lady, who must be a master at multitasking – juggling a full time job with writing a string of detective novels, and running a theatre company. Today, she has chosen to share her thoughts about the parallels between books and the theatre.
There are people far better qualified than me to draft a ‘how to write a novel’ guide. My approach to writing involves sitting down with a completely blank sheet of paper, some characters in my head and a childish excitement, as I wonder what trouble I can get them into in the next instalment of my Craig Thriller Series. If I wrote a ‘how to’ guide it wouldn’t occupy much space.
So instead I thought that I would chat about the theatre, my second love after writing novels. After all, if you think about it, plays really aren’t very different to books. Both have an opening scene where we are introduced to the plot. In some cases it’s explicit, as in Shakespeare’s plays which often start with a prologue setting the scene, similar to the blurb on a book cover or in some cases the foreword that precedes chapter one.
Then we meet the characters, not all at once (the stage would be very crowded!) but gradually throughout the play or the book, as events require them to appear. On the stage we actually see them portrayed by actors, the character’s appearance changing according to who is cast. In a book the reader creates their image and the reader’s imagination about what they look like can run wild, carried along by hints in the text. They may be described as tall or slim or pale, with dark hair that reaches to their shoulders or blonde cropped close to the head, but even that amount of detail in a novel allows for many different looks.
As the plot moves on emotions are expressed by the characters’ words and actions. Sometimes clues are added to define them further, using sparse adverbs in a book or facial expressions on a stage. Some playwrights like Harold Pinter are famed for their pauses, and others like Owen McCafferty for their use of accent and dialect, their stage delivery portrayed in a novel through conversational structure and local words.
Other writers choose subject matter or approaches that make a topic all their own, like Arthur Miller’s Salem Witch Trials in ‘The Crucible’ or Agatha Christie’s cosy crime, the mention of the topic or approach sufficient to herald the writer’s identity.
If books have chapters, plays have scenes, delivering natural breaks that allow the reader or viewer time to gather their thoughts. But a book can be set aside mid-chapter and continued, whereas a play must be watched in one brief period of time. But the joy of re-reading or watching again remains the same.
And then what of the denouement? That time in the text when the plot strands draw together and the audience anticipates the close. Its use is similar whether in a play or a book, the skill of the writer in hiding the inevitability of the finale, making the audience wonder how they hadn’t known it all along.
At last there comes the finale when the action crescendos, bringing things to satisfying end in the final chapter or act. The last pages turns, the curtains close and the actors and characters fade away to live on only in our minds. How long they live depends on whether their creator has made their characters feel real. Life is a stage.
And here are Catriona’s books. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed four of them, and cant wait to read The Broken Shore, due to be published on 13th December.