June 22, 2014

A Slice of PIE: The Novel As Theater


If by this the speaker meant, “There’s WAY more that goes on behind stage than what happens ON stage,” then I agree.

I was never “the star of the show”. Some of my best friends were. Some people who were best friends before the show were no longer best friends after the show. Of course, this just proves my point...

A science fiction novel starts long before we get to buy it on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble. Some writers are transparent in how they work. Author Julie Czerneda loves to share her work and her working environment so that neophytes like me can see EXACTLY how much work goes into creating a novel. She lets us know what she cuts:


Others put every thought that went INTO a novel IN the novel, the end result being a book brimming with details which is very satisfying to some, and very confusing to others (I think this happened in David Brin’s newest, EXISTENCE).

My opinion is that a novel should be exactly like theater – almost all of it should be hidden with only the action visible. I don’t want to know how many scenes are hidden back stage. While it might interest me later, I don’t want to know anything about the prop set-up, the make up, the costumes, the lighting, the sound system, or the choreography. Maybe I’m wrong, but when I go to see a play or a musical, I want to see the story – not the back story or the pre-story.

There’s also a flip side to this. I would argue that a novel should NOT be improv. Don’t get me wrong, improv has its place in theater. I’ve had friends do improv and watched it – especially humorous improv and enjoy it immensely. The spontaneous nature of that kind of theater; its ability to comment in the moment and allow actors to play off of each other is its strength.

But no novel should be written that way. While I enjoyed the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novels as a young adult:

, this is not what I’m looking for as a solid read as an adult. It’s neither substantial nor is it fulfilling. When I read a novel, I want a memorable experience. While I loved these as a kid, there isn’t a single adventure of the “40 possible endings” that I can remember.

When I wrote my second-most-recent science fiction novel for adults, INVADER’S GUILT, I tried to tell the story through the eyes of five different characters. That was not a good move as it was hard to follow and readers couldn’t form relationships with the characters. Forming relationships with characters is what reading – and theater-going is all about. Some actors make us feel “as if” we were there.

Others lack that ability and the show suffers for it. Think about it: how many times has ROMEO AND JULIET been performed? A gazillion times (or as source state, “countless times”) since it was written in the 1590s? Who is your most memorable Romeo? Who is the Juliet who stands out in your mind? It will be different for every person. Do you remember the costumes? The props? The set?

None of the above. We see the play and watch the movies for the story. No matter how it is twisted and revised and revived, the STORY stays the same and that is what we return to.

The novel as theater – a new methodology for me: keep almost everything back stage and concentrate on the STORY. I can have the prop set-up, make up, costumes, lighting, sound system, choreography, back story, and pre-story all there. But the only thing my reader should see is the STORY. In order to do that, it has to be a GOOD story. An eternal story. How many stories are there? Depends on who you ask. But that will be the subject of another essay.

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