PerspectivePublished October 3, 2016
I have been painting again. In the painting the subject’s hand in the foreground is large and her hand in the background is small. This is a clue to the perspective of the painter. She is low and close to her subject.
The very large hand reminds me of something Stella Adler used to impress upon us, her drama students, that in order to tell a story in two hours the characters on stage must be larger than life. Stella was not instructing us to exaggerate, to make the hand larger as in the painting. She was challenging us to reveal more, to be naked on the stage, and give “it” all away, saving nothing for the self. By “it” she meant the gift the actor presents to the audience through character. It could be said that an actor releases a character to the audience completely, holding back nothing. It can’t be done playing it safe.
The same must be done in writing. The writer must draw her characters larger than life, holding back nothing. In life too often our presentation is small. We tend to be stingy, protecting ourselves from being known truly, completely. This doesn’t work in a book or on stage. The audience and readers don’t have a lifetime to get to know the characters. In life we can slowly, very gradually reveal ourselves. In art we run out of time or space, doing that.
Stella’s acting lessons were my writing lessons. At the time that I was learning how to create character I had no idea I would one day apply those lessons to stories I would write.
Yesterday I completed a second revision of my play, After the Dance. I will return to it in another day or two to see what is there and what is not and look to see if it is big enough, important. It is not enough to tell a story that is engaging. It must also be important. It must say something that needs to be said, that increases awareness or understanding, and challenges the reader. At the same time my story needs to show a character and circumstances that are unique, it must tell a universal truth. And it must tell it in a new way. That is art.