Are you bored to tears by the novel/short story/biography you’re working on? Is your passion to write being smothered by frustration? Are you in limbo, waiting for a book to be issued, or a manuscript to be accepted? Or perhaps you’re the sort of person who manages to keep on writing no matter what. If so, great! But if just sitting down at the computer has become a hateful task, it’s time to change creative gears.
Here’s my own gear-changing story. I’d just completed two manuscripts, had sent them off… and was waiting for news. I had started writing a fun novel… but couldn’t keep going. I had two other manuscripts boiling away on the hob… but I couldn’t settle down with either. I was restless, looking for inspiration. I wanted to write, but was stuck in a rut. And then, like in any comic strip, something clicked, and the light came on. I remembered how, during the winter, I’d gone to see a show in the city nearest to where I live. It was a two-person jazz musical: the singer, Mireille, has a wonderful stage presence and a lovely voice; Paul, the pianist, is a great jazzman. And because both Mireille and Paul are two very talented people, the show worked. But… the story itself was rather flat. Repetitive. It wandered around, went nowhere.
And, a few weeks ago, thinking about that show again, I began wondering… Couldn’t I write something with a better storyline? I am a storyteller, after all. But I write books. What do I know about writing plays? Or shows? Nothing. The idea was crazy. I wasn’t serious. I hate falling on my face. But you know what happened next? Even though I did my very best to push the idea to the back of my mind, a storyline suddenly appeared. A love story. And it grew.
So what did I do then? I wrote to Mireille, asked if she was working on a new show. If she wasn’t, I had an idea that might appeal to her. She phoned me. I suggested we meet. She agreed. We did. I rolled out my story idea, and she liked it. And she accepted.
I still think I’m crazy, but things are getting very exciting. I’m learning about another field of writing, searching through books, reading on the web — and, believe me, there’s a lot of helpful material out there. Here are some of the things I know now:
1) Never forget that a musical is just another way to tell a good story. You have to know what your show is really about, and the dramatic purpose of each character.
2) A good musical must have characters that need or want something desperately but are being hindered by a powerful obstacle — perhaps another character.
3) Unlike a novel, we can’t describe our character’s traits. The action, the acting and the words have to show the audience who everyone is.
4) Every song, word and gesture has to have a clear dramatic purpose. If it doesn’t, cut it out.
5) Find where the songs will go — you can’t just shove them in anywhere. There has to be some emotional justification for singing — love, anger, confusion, amusement. Also, the show has to start with a song that wakes people up, puts them in the mood to hear more, sets the scene, the tone, tells who the characters are.
6) Everything has to be smooth and varied. No long dialogue, and no songs, one after the other, without dialogue.
7) Never, ever, repeat in the dialogue what was already expressed in the song.
8) Decide early on what the song list is, so you can work out the scenes. Remember that three minutes is the usual length of a song.
9) Write out the script early on, and add in the stage directions so your actors/performers can visualize the possibilities. You can always change things later.
Of course, these are only the basics, but doesn’t it sound like fun? Okay, I’m not writing the music or the lyrics — I’m leaving that to the professionals — but the tale is mine. There might not be money in this for me, but it’s a first step into something new. Who knows where it will lead?
How about you? Do you feel inspired? Why not contact a local theater group and offer to write a play or a musical for them? You never know where you’ll end up.