Friday, August 14, 2015

Playwrights' wisdom

I have been doing a lot of writing this summer, mostly of  the creative variety. And I am excited to tell you that my latest play, Bigger Than All of Us, will have its premier reading at The Kennedy Center on Labor Day, September 7. I have been up to my eyeballs in rewrites and revisions most of the summer, and am thankful for the feedback from my very able playwriting colleagues, who have supported me every step of this process. At our last meeting we were debating whether a line conveyed the "tone" I wanted, and one of my friends said, "At some point you have to trust that your words will be able to stand alone." She meant that I won't always be in the rehearsal room to make sure the director and cast know exactly what I want to convey, and how I want to convey it.  I must make my precise intention crystal clear through the lines and the action of the script. My friend is right, of course. Though sometime we playwrights do "nudge" the interpretation a bit by including stage directions in our scripts to show how we hear a certain line in our heads ("sarcastically," "with suppressed glee," etc.). But we can't use that crutch too often, unless we want to identify ourselves as novices who have not learned to write very well.

As I have been refining my script, I have also been developing a business writing workshop. My client and I are discussing this same issue: how do you convey the proper "tone?" Of course the first rule for business writing is the same first rule for all writing (whether it is a play or a speech): know your audience. Once you have the specifics of your audience in mind, you take some of the guesswork out of finding the right tone. But then you need to do what we do as playwrights, get outside your own head and listen to your message with different ears. And make no mistake: this is important for all types of writing, not just speech writing. You need to hear how your message sounds. Because when people read what you have written, they hear it in their heads. And if there is any possibility at all that your message can be misinterpreted, you need to rewrite it. Usually this means simplifying the sentence structure, and revising your word choice to use concrete language and active verbs. Sometimes it means tweaking your organization, so you clearly lead with topic sentences and choose your supporting points more judiciously.  But you always need to "consider the audience" and how they will receive your message. If you write in a way they find oblique, opaque, or disrespectful for any reason, whether or not that was your intention, you will lose them.

So take a page from the playwright's script, and make sure your words clearly speak for themselves. Because you don't have the luxury of including stage directions!

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