Singing Loudly: Writing Realism

Singing Loudly

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Writing Realism

It's been awhile since I've written any posts on the nature of playwriting but the wait is over. Today I was listening to a very good interview with Jonathon Safran Foer who has recently written a new novel. Just as an aside, JSF if perhaps one of the most overrated authors who is actually quite fabulous in history. It's just not often that someone who is truly wonderful can also be overrated, but I think it's happened with him. He is a true talent, but I don't think you can see all of it from what people say about Everything Is Illuminated. Just wait though because he's young and really a wonderful writer.

He was accepting calls about how to become a wonderful writer and whether there was a right way and seemed to be on target. MFA programs are great for some people (the environment is what you want, you have the financial means to do it, etc) and terrible for other people. Anyhow, one of the things that struck me the strongest was when someone asked how to write characters. I went into my own world instead of really listening much to JSF, so I'm going to explain what I do.

Characters are extremely difficult to create in novels, plays, movies, poetry, etc. Characters are just not easy things to make because they drain everything from you when you make characters. They drain your mental, spiritual, and physical energy from you when you try to create someone. You have to trust what is coming out of you when you write and take it step by step. It can be a scary experience.

One thing that I always do is try to write characters that are not realistic but are still believable. It has gotten to the point where it's easier for me to do that then it once was, but it's still a chore. At one point I had some conversations with a professor at NYU, and famed playwright, who told me that for each character I should write a 200+ page biography of that characters life. It doesn't matter if that character is just a stand-in or a leading role in the play. There needs to be a rich history. I've done that for some of my plays and others I haven't done that for, so I don't know if I would follow that. But you have to develop characters that are believable. I don't think that realism is necessary if you're in control of you writing.

I hope this helps any of the budding writers out there as you think about what is needed in writing. It's difficult but the rewards are rich.


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