Tuesday, August 18, 2009


I've written novels, news stories, weddings, plays, speeches, op-eds, short stories, one-act farces, puppet shows... the list seems endless. In my book, describing one's self as a writer requires a nimble pen and a willingness to take on something new.

Sometimes I throw my words out there and they fall to the ground unheard. Plays get written but don't get performed. Blogs go unread. Op-Eds get cut or cut-down. From the wedding that three dozen people hear to the play that never got performed, from the short story that wins an award to the novel you've all been hearing about, one thing unifies them all... I learned and moved on to the next project.

And I'd wager that my writing was better for the experience.

A screenplay is not a novel. A play is not a short story. A wedding is not any of those things. Yet they all play well together and inspire one another all the time. The wedding drew heavy inspiration from Shakespeare's sonnets. Many successful movies are adapted from novels, short stories and plays. Writers talk about adapting what they learned writing literature, genre fiction and poetry to other modes all the time. But rarely do I hear about how writing other forms and modes inform and improve fiction writing.

Novel covers may describe the writing as "poetic" or "theatrical" to get across elements of plot and pacing before you crack the spine, but how often does the writer talk about how it got that way? Does writing poetry improve your fiction? Does writing for the stage improve your dialogue? It should and I would wager it does on both counts. It certainly did for me.

Even if I don't put my poems out there, or if the plays are performed in a children's theater, or on the dirt at a festival, there are lessons to learn. "Aha!" moments where the poetry constrains description and word-painting or the actor turns to you and says "This sounds wierd, let's say this instead..." The poet is creating images within metrical constraints and the playwright is hearing other people speak the character's words aloud. This changes our perception as we view other moments of description or dialogue. Also there are pacing elements, characterization, meter, word and time constraints that teach you innumerable lessons applicable to other forms of writing.

Movie novelizations aside, too often we view the novel or short story or poem or play as the station that all trains leave from. The novel inspires the movie. The short story inspires the play. The poem inspires the wedding. The play inspires the film. While each form or mode requires an understanding of the constraints and expectations of the audience, none stand alone. We should not think of our mode as the station with all travelers leaving for other climes but as Rome, the destination of all roads.

The next few posts on Pages to Type will be on this theme. These are things I apply no matter where I point my pen. And I submit that these things are something that any writer or reader in any mode would do well to keep in mind. As always, I would like to hear from you as we go along. How does the theater inform the novel? Take it as far afield as you like. How does culinary arts influence the stage? How do the paintings of Rembrandt influence the direction of your blog? How do other arts inform everything else that passes across your page?
Scott Walker Perkins writes literary thrillers and novels of suspense woven from the threads of history. His current novel is The Palimpsest and he is working on another tentatively titled 42 Lines. Contact Information Email: swalkerperkins@gmail.com Blog: Pages to Type Before I Sleep
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1 comment:

  1. Scott,great topic, I am fascinated by the ways in which the arts and life in general I guess feed into each other, creating something new and vibrant. It makes you think about the concept of originality, an author can re-tell an old tale and still make it vibrant and new, Shakespeare did.
    Maybe it's just me but sometimes I think novelists who also write poetry, seem to have a more concise and controlled prose?


Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).