Editing for Grammarphobes: The Play's the Thing

Posted by KAREN WOJCIK BERNER



Saturday, my husband and I attended Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of The Madness of George III. Harry Groener treated the audience to a formidable performance in the title role, as he brought us down the descent with him and back up again, only to hint at another impending spiral downward yet to come.

It was powerful, and sometimes uncomfortably intimate, to witness this in a small venue. Groener brought majesty when necessary, but his true brilliance was at the feeble times when King George’s illness affected him the most, through his body, his slurred speech, and, most poignantly, through the vulnerability that shone in his eyes.

Playwright Alan Bennett created a character with so many layers, one could not help but be intrigued and awed by him. That is good writing. In two and a half hours, my heart ached for this man and what he had to endure.

Novelists can learn a lot from the theater. Playwrights do not have the luxury of several chapters of introduction in which to hook their audiences. It must be done right away or they lose them, and the yawns begin.

There is one scene in The Madness of George III in which the King has his staff read King Lear aloud. The irony, of course, is not lost upon them as they speak the lines of the Cordelia’s reunion with Lear toward the end of the play. Although he writes it for a few laughs, Bennett skillfully draws the parallels between the two men, further cementing the fact that, ultimately, this play is a tragedy very much in the Shakespearean tradition.

What makes Shakespeare and Bennett interesting? Characters that are at once powerful, yet flawed. Vulnerable, yet mighty. You don’t always have to like them, but you will be moved by them.

After watching something so wonderful, it stays with me, and I cannot help but try to figure out why. What worked? How was the plot crafted? What is the overriding theme? How was that theme illustrated?

Writers of all sorts can learn a lot from the theater. I hope you go see a drama soon. You will be all the better for it.

On Another Note... 
After you have ordered your tickets to whatever great theater is in your area, feel free to stop by and browse at an online book fair on A.M. Kuska’s blog. Kuska is a Y.A. fantasy writer whose new novel, Ordinary, has recently been released. It is a great place to find some new fiction, and there are many different genres represented, including A Whisper to a Scream, of course.

Comments

wosushi said…
My mom was very involved in her high school theater group when she was young, and kept that love of theater up as she raised us. That could very well be why I always loved writing - the craft of telling a story that draws someone in and even allows them to escape to where ever it is you are taking them.

I couldn't agree with you more about the importance of going to the theater as a writer.

And the small theaters are the best. The intimacy of the story, even if it can almost be awkward at times, is amazing.
Brenda said…
I do love the theater, but I confess, growing under the Hollywood sign, I am a sucker for a good movie. I find an inspiration in lines in books, and especially in the lyrics of a good song.
wosushi and Brenda, Thanks for your comments. I share both of your love of the theater. Brenda, you are correct. There is inspiration in many forms of art.
I agree that novelists can learn from playwrights. How a playwright can caputure a setting in stage directions rather than using pages and pages like a novelist is so admirable.

Great post. I'm glad to have found you via She Writes. Thanks.
Thanks for stopping by, Miss Good on Paper, and for following Bibliophilic Blather. Nice to have you here.

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