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No More Going it Alone – Learning the Art of Collaboration

October 14, 2013

I am pleased to introduce Shellie Foltz to the readers of Birth of a Novel. Shellie, a fellow Avalon writer (and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Missourian), has agreed to share her experience writing for the stage. Personally, I’m fascinated by plays and movies. They seem to me to be storytelling in the best “show, don’t tell” tradition, but I didn’t realize until reading Shellie’s post how collaborative the process is.  I’ll Shellie tell you about that.

No More Going it Alone

Shellie FoltzI’ve always sequestered myself with my writing; I rarely share anything in draft form with anyone but my husband. In the past year, however, I’ve discovered the joy of collaboration thanks to the good folks at Stained Glass Theatre, a regional Christian theatre located in Ozark, Missouri.  The theatre has a rich and wonderful history which you can read all about on its website (www.sgtheatre.com); but my personal history with Stained Glass dates back to just a little over a decade when I revisited a neglected area of my writing life: the play.

I became fascinated with theatre in high school and found great joy not only in watching plays, but in reading them.  In my sophomore year of college I was accepted to the scriptwriting program at NYU’s TischSchool of the Arts.  Something contrived to keep me at home, however, and that dream never came to fruition for me, though receiving that letter still ranks as one of the proudest moments of my life.  I sat in on script writing conferences with local groups after that, but really my writing life as a young twenty-something was haphazard.

Feeling frustrated with myself, I decided I would return to that love of the play and write one with a production at Stained Glass Theatre as my goal.  When Welcome to Joe’s debuted, I was over the moon and as soon as the show closed I was on to the next.  Related Spaces found a spot in the theatre’s season a couple years later, and two years ago Joe reprised.  I am eagerly anticipating seeing Keeping Watch, my first Christmas show, on stage this season and for that I have especially to thank the Executive Director, Tom Young, who took the time to talk with me about his vision for the theatre and some of the things he’d like to see on stage.  I felt inspired and challenged after that conversation.  I was eager to write, but it didn’t come as easily this time.

I suppose it’s fair since, as an English teacher, I made many writing assignments to students that I should find it difficult to write to someone else’s vision rather than as a result of personal inspiration.  I revisited the notes I’d made after that conversation with Tom many times, struggling to “see” the stage through his lens.  There were features he was interested in that were not natural to me, but I worked diligently to meet a fast-approaching deadline and was determined to have something to offer that would meet with and perhaps even exceed expectation. 

Writing a play is such a different process from writing prose.  There are so many considerations:  the size of the stage, where the actors and actresses will stand, how they will move and maneuver through the set, the cost of props and costumes, and the overarching theme (if there is one) of upcoming seasons.  There are so many questions to be answered about each scene!  What will the extras on stage be doing while the hero and heroine interact here?  How quickly can the villain change costumes from the last scene before re-entering in the next? 

At its essence, however, good writing is good writing.  Like a novel, the play must have a strong central conflict and the writer must take time to develop the characters fully.  Dialogue must be natural and stage directions must indicate how it should be delivered to avoid confusion, just as you would indicate that a character in a story spoke hesitantly or heatedly.  Whatever format your writing takes, you as the creator, must grow in your understanding of the genre and must invest yourself in your craft.  This can be uncomfortable.  I know.  I have experienced collaboration.

What an exhilarating, humbling experience!  To engage in meaningful conversation with others who are interested in your success and who believe your involvement will mean something to their own success!  To address a piece of writing critically from multiple perspectives!  To engage in evaluative conversations!  Oh, to hear someone say, “I think this section might be stronger if. . .”!  To listen closely and intentionally with an aim of perfecting the piece!  This is what collaboration is all about!

Many of you know this already; it is nothing new to you.  You have allowed a certain few others in.  They are your critique group, your trusted advisors.  Others of you, like me, may have hidden away and worked in solitude until you were ready to share the final product with the world.  May I encourage you to take a step outside yourself and engage others?  I have every confidence that if you do you will find yourself not only a better writer, but a happier one.  Let’s face it, we all want to be appreciated.  We all want to have someone tell us our work is good.  love under a dark skyWe all know our work is good; but it can be better.  More importantly, we can be better people for the process of sharing and accepting help from others in this most cherished and personal of endeavors:  writing.

no penalty for loveIn addition to her plays, Shellie is the author of two wholesome romance novels:  No Penalty for Love and Love Under a Dark Sky available at http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=shellie%20foltz

Shellie, thanks so much for sharing your experience with us.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2013 5:52 AM

    That’s a great post, Shellie! It’s true that your writing becomes much better if you discuss it with other professionals, but two things are a must: they have to be honest, and they have to be gentle. One without the other is terrible. I enjoyed this, thank you!

    • October 19, 2013 7:01 AM

      Good points, Beate. It’s no favor to a writer to offer false praise. On the other hand, if you’re too harsh, your suggestions hurt rather than help. It’s a thin line to walk – and it sounds like Shellie has learned to navigate it perfectly. Thanks for your comment.

  2. October 19, 2013 10:53 AM

    Shellie, I enjoyed your post. I can appreciate that script writing is an entirely new world–and yes, sharing our work with “the right people” can make all the difference.

    • October 19, 2013 2:57 PM

      Thanks for stopping by, Sydell. I’ve never tried my hand at scriptwriting, but, after reading Shellie’s experience, would like to give it a whirl … if I could find the right partner.

  3. October 19, 2013 11:48 AM

    I have seen both of Shellie’s plays, and am looking forward to the third. She is a delightful person as well as a good writer and i have enjoyed getting to know her over the last few years.
    Loved the Blog about collaboration. I have been in a critique group for about seven years and i can honestly say I wouldn’t have been published without their help and encouragment.

    • October 19, 2013 2:59 PM

      I’m envious, Kaye. Maybe some day, the stars will align and I will be in MO at the same time as one of Shellie’s play is being staged. Ditto to your remark about your critique group. Finding the right people has been invaluable to me.

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