Plays vs. Novels

The Comedy and Tragedy MasksWay back when I did a workshop called “Visceral Playwriting” with Linda Griffiths, I recall her saying that playwriting was more difficult than writing a novel.  Her reasons are now lost to me and, honestly, were not that clear to me to begin with, but I do recall reading an interview with George F. Walker who argued that plays were more difficult because they forced the writer to be more imaginative.  The confines of the space and the restricted number of characters simply made for harder creative work than a novel where, if you feel the need for an astronaut or the Russian president, or an astronaut and the Russian president in the International Space Station, you simply write them and it in.  The reader and the writer both can skip the annoying details of the nuts and bolts of actually transforming the Kremlin into the ISS.  And no more pondering whether there is time to get the Russian president from his  exit stage right to centre stage in a space suit.


In keeping with all that, I found the transition from plays to novels liberating.  Everything was suddenly possible.  I finally truly understood why play“wrights” were called this and not play“writes” (although, the annoying term dramatist seems to have entered the lexicon), and having understood, I realized how much fussing the mechanics had taken (and if you think that`s the director`s problem, just ask my playwright friend whether she`s fretting about how she`s going to deal with those dogs that are insisting on being part of her play).  But no more!  Not with novels.

But there is one thing that I will say about writing novels versus plays, which for that reason alone, still puts novels in the “harder to write” camp for at least me.  They’re longer.  A lot longer.  Sure that can be liberating, too.  Novels give you the freedom to take your time to build characters, relationships, sub-plots, to add in more twists and turns, but there is always a point where I indulge in the wonderful/horrible tool of Word Count and it tells me I have written 20,000 words and I think, “If this were a play, I would be done by now.”

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