I Also Write Musicals

I’m an artist through and through. I like arting. I art all the time.

While I am aspiring to be a professional author, and working towards improving my writing and storytelling skills with every word I put down on the page, there are plenty of other modes of art that I participate in: sewing, designing, painting, drawing, and songwriting, specifically writing musicals with my husband.

Writing musicals has it’s similarities with writing novels, but the differences increase the more I think about it.

Character creation and development is the most similar. Just like in a novel, the characters in a musical or play need to be well developed and complex. Otherwise, the audience will just see a bunch of bland characters and the take away from the show won’t be as much impact. After all, if you don’t care about the characters and can’t relate to them in some way, it stops at being entertaining, and for us, writing musicals always goes beyond the spectacle.

Outlining is always very similar, but slimmed greatly in comparison to novels. It requires the writer(s) to really hone in on the important scenes in the story, the ones that communicate what is happening the best, and never wasting any time. After all, most people aren’t looking to go to a six hour play. Most people.

Now, as for the differences:

The biggest difference for me, is working with a writing partner. Since my husband has a degree in musical composition, he takes much of the lead with the actual writing of the music, but we collaborate in every other way: figuring out the concept(s), writing the plot, writing songs, writing the book. In the current production we are working on, FRACTURED, we’ve gotten quite speedy at the writing songs part. That has gotten a lot to do with our communication and my ability to crank out lyrics that fit is rhyme schemes and syllables, as well as his ability to figure out what I’m looking for when I saw “make it sound like a newspaper”. While writing together can often create friction, this friction always resolves into the best possible outcome. We are both invested in the show and are willing to debate to make every line the best it can be. Iron sharpening iron, as they say.

The writing style is obviously a huge difference as well. I try extremely hard to say as little as possible about visuals and focus as much as possible on dialogue and lyrics alone. We’ve learned a lot about writing scripts, and we love the philosophy that the script is only the beginning of the art. It’s a canvas with a few lines, and the best scripts allow for directors and actors to give new life to the show every time it is performed. Too many details, information, or direction, and it will become stale after one production. We love the idea that there are different angles to characters, and different ways a scene could be presented, and try to write to provide plenty of opportunities for options and new perspectives.

Speaking of writing style, dialogue is the main form of communication in a script, and – keeping in mind the outlining thing – every line needs to be perfect, because we can’t have rambling monologues every scene. It can be a challenge to get a line to be clear without explaining too much, or to write a conversation that sounds natural and organic when spoken out loud. Of course, the best actors can make anything sound good, but we want the script to be smooth and sparkling, and not a handicap to the story.

And, of course, writing songs is something you usually don’t see in novels. Usually. And certainly never twenty of them. While I’m a huge fan of narrative songs in musicals, there is always an element of poetry (unless you are Sondheim and can just make everything sound good). I’ve learned so much about rhyming, poetic language, counting syllables, and understanding themes since we’ve started writing together a year and a half ago. Often when a song gets stuck, and it won’t work, it’s because we don’t know what the song is about, what it is trying to say. And that is the biggest challenge to overcome, one we are currently facing. We’ve written three or four variations on the finale song for FRACTURED, trying to nail the main message and make it something memorable. After all, it’s the last thing the audience hears before leaving. Trying to wrap up every theme and idea in the show in one song can be pretty difficult.

As you’ve probably noticed, collaboration is HUGE in musicals. While, for the most part, it is solely between my husband and myself, once we get that initial draft written, we get feedback. In novel writing, I will keep that draft to myself, working out things and tidying it up a bit before sending it out to a couple trusted people to give me notes and editing. With musicals, we want feedback fast so we can begin cutting songs and scenes that don’t work and fixing it up. Since we spend so much time debating songs and dialogue, when often feel “this is as good as it can get, right?” and with SCARLET, we learned that there is always so much room to grow. Since our initial read-through and workshops, so much of that script has changed, and it is a million times better now.

I could go on and on, but I’ll leave it here and get back to the sewing madness that is happening right now. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a few words written for THE BLESSED today as well.

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