By Eleanor Shelton
As a writer, the best gift I ever received was to hear my scene being brought to life by professional actors. I was invited to participate in a playwriting class at a regional theater. I had never written a play, nor did I think I was about to. But the course needed one more participant to happen. After a little nudging, I thought, “what the heck?” It couldn’t hurt to look at writing from a different perspective. Right?
I spent a few hours working on a scene that was dialogue-heavy, ensuring each line carried weight. Then I converted it into playwriting format, complete with stage directions. The next day, in front of the entire class, the actors took to the stage, script in hand, and brought my scene to life.
As writers, we see scenes acted out only in our heads. But that day, my words, my characters, my actions came to life before my eyes. It was poignant.
I actually cried in front of strangers.
Using my words on the page, these actors gave power to things I had only imagined. Where once there was nothing but white space, now I felt powerful emotion and real humans in motion. I heard and saw exactly where my words created magic as well as where they flopped. My characters moved across the stage naturally, brilliantly, and awkwardly as a prima donna ballerina with two left feet. I saw and heard it all!
Writers hear faint sounds in our heads, no I don’t mean we listen to voices, but actually, we do hear voices, just not in a mentally ill kind of way (mostly).
If SAG card-carrying actors are not available on short notice, try reading your work aloud. You are the actor. Trust me, you will catch sentences with no rhythm, words that are used too often, and banal dialogue. I once read my 500-page novel out loud to myself squirreled away in my upstairs office. My husband knocked on the door to see if I was talking to myself. I told him I was, and he wandered off satisfied that he had heard right and his suspicions confirmed. His wife was crazy.
By giving voice to our work, it somehow makes it feel more…real. The universe hears the tension, the longing, and the plight of our main characters. The story takes flight and amuses the gods. Either read your work out loud or convince (pay) someone else to read it for you. It truly is a gift.