Sunday, February 21, 2010

Write On

Writing is mentally stimulating, it's like a puzzle that makes you think all the time.

Stephanie Zimbalist
In all my years I never considered myself a writer. People say "You should write plays." For half a century I acted in plays. And during that time I learned a lot about art and about myself as an artist. One of the most important lessons was about precision of communication. Inexperienced actors, myself once included, I suppose, are more concerned with tearing up the stage with great passion than with getting the story told. I've seen the same approach taken by young musicians. But there comes a time when the artist must stop and ask himself what the play or the music is really about. At that moment it is too easy to face the regret of having spent too much time mangling the material and not much time finding the true poetry within it, the substance that is going to feed the listener and affect his life.

The temptation for a writer (one who is trying to be a writer) is to fill the pages with purple prose and fancy phrases and thus ignore the real power of words. Language is a tool that can move mountains of ignorance, inspire to action and clear the skies of confusion.

"The pen is mightier than the sword." That was written by Edward
Bulwer-Lytton for a play in 1839 and it has since become a classic phrase to describe how the right words clearly stated can topple tyrants and punish villainy.

So what's the big puzzle? I conducted a seminar in public speaking one day and one of the clients talked about the problem of finding the right word to express what he wanted to say. He likened it to going out hunting for a deer and coming back with a squirrel. I have heard actors carelessly destroy the verbiage of playwrights. I did it myself in my early days. Now I know better. I will sometimes spend 5 to 10 minutes, if I have to, trying to find the word, the deer, that is precise and precious, the word that rings, not the one that makes a dull thud. I'm a learner.

Writing, like any art requires living, feeling, thinking, solving the puzzles and doing it every day.

Weekend Contest

I'm getting a lot of interesting mangled cliches so I'm leaving this quiz up for another weekend.

"A stitch in time is worth two in the bush."

Your assignment is to take two or more grand old sayings, cliches, sage saws or famous quotes and cobble (clobber) them together to make a new and wiser adage or utter nonsense as in the above.

Enter as often as you wish. The decision of the ornery, biased judge is final.

13 entries so far.

Good luck.


Gerry said...

You would be a wonderful actor to cast in a play looking at it from the playwright's viewpoint. In college I acted in a number of plays before I started to write plays. I got cast in a one act play by William Saroyan called "Hello Out There." My director was a tall stunningly beautiful girl who later became Miss America in which she performed a dramatic reading. Well, Saroyan I always thought was a little over emotional but she directed me to take my acting over the top. She emoted in breathy tones and ordered me to play the part exactly as she read it. What a dilemma! I had never played any part remotely like she commanded me to do. I thought that was very bad acting. During rehearsal I sort of complied with her directions, but when I performed the piece I tried to find the sense an interpretation that would at least sound believable. I was shocked when I walked off stage and she hissed at me, "You will never act in a play for me again! You disobeyed my instructions!" Later on I saw her perform her reading on national TV when she tried for Miss America which I think even came from Shakespeare, since she played Cleopatra in Shakespeare in college. I tried out for the same part. Well, she made a spectacular looking Cleopatra but the second she opened her mouth all sense was lost. I thought well she is another beautiful actress who is to arrogant even to learn how to communicate meaning to an audience. So what if she won? She was 6 feet tall and all beautiful but I never heard of her going anywhere with her acting. Colleen Hutchings, I will always remember her name. Another dominating director in Utah got hold of her and cast her as a lion tamer in a circus play. Her dramatics fit that part. It was the best thing I ever saw her do in college. She had the chance to make a huge splash on a national stage, but as far as I was concerned her acting was absolutely atrocious and she bombed. Which tells you what people will put up with and call good in a Shakespearean role.

Beth said...

It drives me crazy when I know there's a specific word that I want and need, but I can't think of it. It's right...there...but I can't quite retrieve it. Sometimes I'll substitute something similar and go back later and it will strike me, like going to another room to get something and forgetting what you came you go back to where you started, and you remember. Hugs, Beth

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

It is easy to mangle, but much harder to read and feel the truth. Especially with you Vagabond Tales, I can find your truth.

Judith Ellis said...

"...finding the true poetry within it, the substance that is going to feed the listener and affect his life."

Beautifully written, DB.

Mark and Elayne said...

How timely. As I am in the progress of writing a book (turning one of the blogs into a book)and working on an idea for a play, I am reminded of "what is the story I wish to tell. To think about my readers and those actors and actress that will one day give my words life and wings.
Thank you, beloved friend.