NaNoWriMo Tips: stage directions and other lessons from script writing

(Why are you reading blogs? Go write! )

If anyone knows where this came from, let me know.

When I was younger, I spent a lot of my time (13 years) involved with all things theater. Acting in, writing, and directing plays all taught me a lot about storytelling, and about writing.

Playwriting and screenwriting is writing distilled down to an impressive science; instead of a whole block of text to connect with our audience, all there is is dialogue and action. Everything about a script is meant to give as much information possible in as little space needed, and while that seems like the opposite of NaNoWriMo, the last thing we want to waste is time fumbling with what we have already written, searching for what we already said.

I've noticed this year that a lot of the habits I developed as a playwright (yes the wright is where I got my NaNo username) have helped me immensely in my noveling, helping me to pad my word count, keep characters straight, and probably to smooth out the editing process in the future.

Here are some of them:

  • Leave yourself stage notes. You know that scene where we achingly work so hard at crafting the signs of subtle frustration in our main character? Chances are that on re-reading, we will have been too subtle and we won't remember what was going on. Take a cue from scripts, and leave yourself notes like (Mark is angry) and (she's holding the dagger), so as directors we can keep track of the action and not let it get muddled in our word-spewing haze.
  • Tell, don't show. I know, this is like breaking the first commandment, but there are times when we just don't want to deal with a scene, or we suddenly have lost track of what we are writing. When a play is a little confusing, one character usually sits and explains it all to help the audience out. To get past something we don't want to spend time on, nothing works like a quick bit of telling. Let a character have a flashback, dream sequence, monologue, or step out as a narrator and just blurt out a big bunch of story.; anything just to get the plot moving again.
  • Name extra characters simply. Not all characters need real names. While naming main characters can be one of the more enjoyable parts of noveling, naming an entire cast is exhausting and impossible to keep track of. Unless a name is required, most plays and movies will have extra players named their function, like “party guy” or “suitor seven.” This saves precious time trying to remember what we named someone, and also adds to our word count a little. And as a bonus, when we go back to edit, we know exactly who everyone is instead of running into something like the banquet scenes in Game of Thrones (I actually used action figures with post-its to get through reading those).
  • Cast of characters. At the top of each script is a section describing each main character: age, description, disposition. A lot of up keep a character bible of some kind, but I prefer this quick sketch just to keep referring to in case I can't remember if my main character is a ginger or brunette, or what accent someone speaks with. We can add small details as we go, but it isn't as rigid or as cumbersome as a full biography (though if you're really stuck for words, biographies are fair game for extra word count).
  • Create a morgue. My script writing teacher always told us to never throw out dialogue. Instead, he gave us a notebook with a headstone on the cover, and instead of throwing out stuff, we glued it in there for later resurrection. Every time you write something you don't like, just cut and paste it onto another document, or just move it to the bottom of the screen under a MORGUE heading. And count them. Keep all of the words you write, even if you change stories or write something you do not use. This isn't writing 50,000 words of coherent plot, this about writing 50,000 words. Put the cut ones in the morgue, and maybe they will get to live again one day.

I hope some or all of these help. Please do not hesitate to message me with any problems, sticky situations, or panic attacks. I want everyone to finish NaNoWriMo, and I'll do whatever I can to get us all there.


That's it for today. We have novels to get to!




12 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo Tips: stage directions and other lessons from script writing

  1. Good tips. Like your ‘cast of characters’ I find it invaluable to precis each section/chapter after it has been written with things like new characters introduced, the timeline (if the plot is galloping ahead over days/weeks) and key incidents. That way you’re less likely to mess up.

  2. Reblogged this on Tammy J Rizzo and commented:
    Some seriously helpful tips for NaNoWriMo, here. I have often used salt shakers, glasses, silverware, pens, pencils, erasers, whatever I had at hand, as stand-ins for my characters while I acted out a scene on my desktop, to get it straight in my head what was going on, what whomever was doing when, and about how long it would take to do whatever, so I’d know about how many words it should take to describe the action in about that amount of time.

  3. Thank you for saving my NaNoWriMo with the Morgue-idea. Now my constant editing wont hurt the word count as much! When I finish my 50k, I will thank you again in my mind.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s