21 September 2009

Applying my internal proscenium

Started working on fiction again in preparation for the Arvon course I'm going on in November. (I know, I'm supposed to internally link but today I just cannot be bothered.) This is a different piece than what I was working on before the summer break -- somehow I couldn't pick up again with that one, which is essentially a story about a woman who is killed, mysteriously, during the Nazi occupation of the (fictional) island where she lives. Maybe because I stopped for the summer, I started to have too many doubts: about creating a fictional island (although I was enjoying that part); about how to tell the story -- in alternating voices, between the woman, her sister in the past, and/or the woman's niece in the present; about whether the world really needs another story in this "genre". Well, it would have been original I think. I'll probably write it one day. But it'll have to wait.

The thing that I'm working on now, I've had the idea for this story for years. I have written out several drafts of the beginning. Only now is it really starting to go any further. Writing poetry comes more naturally to me so I feel a bit lost in the "story" world. I'm at heart a miniaturist, each poem is really about one moment, or one very particular and nuanced emotion. Stories are the opposite of miniature: they are maxiature, big and complex and they move (or at least the kind I like to read tend to have movement). So at the moment my strategy is to write stories by linking one miniature moment, or scene, after another. I recently read something -- I think it was about Elizabeth Taylor the writer -- yes, it is in here -- it was very simple really, just that she said she wrote “in scenes, rather than in narrative". But this tiny sentence struck me: maybe I should try to write in scenes, too. And it occurred to me, too, how I might apply it to "Harry", the story I'm writing now. I have no shame about copying another writer's technique -- especially if it works! So I'm going now scene by scene, as though each part is under a proscenium. One benefit of this is it is easier to avoid too much digression into the past or thoughts of a character. You can only have so much of that before the scene bogs down. Consequently some scenes might be quite short -- no harm in that. Anyway I am proceeding now at my usual painful snail's pace, a few hundred words each morning before I go to the office, turning my internal proscenium to whichever character's turn it is. How long will this trick work? Stay tuned and find out.....

Image: Stage and proscenium from upper circle, Richmond Theatre, 2008, from The Theatres Trust Theatres Database


  1. J-good luck on Harry! I bet youa re excited for November to come!

  2. That's how Mamet says he does his writing. "I write scenes. I write more scenes. Then I put them in order. And then the play is finished." It works.