Friday, March 28, 2008

On Making Dances and Pacing Novels

Perhaps from the outside making dances, like writing, seems like a giant, freewheeling adventure. Yet those working in such creative fields know that good work merges inspiration with a great deal of hard work and discipline. Still, choreography seems to differ from writing in that it is made upon other people. Inside the choreographer’s mind is a vocabulary of movements and ideas he or she has developed more or less through personal dance experience. These notions must be modified and even discarded for a new vocabulary when a dance is made to embody the ideas presented in a musical and is performed by other people.

Such adaptation is essential when choreographing for young musical theatre performers many of whom have more acting or singing experience than dance training. To make successful dances for such performers, one must develop meaningful, exciting movements that can be both understood and proficiently reproduced. Some of the best dances I have created for kids—the ones that have yielded the biggest smiles on their faces, the most enthusiastic applause from the audiences—have been streamlined, group- and gesture-based routines.

Granted it is delightful when a cast contains trained ballerinas or gymnasts capable of stunning pirouettes and cartwheels but I have learned to truly appreciate the glory of thirty-odd children marching in the same direction, their arms linked together or held in a clear, artful pose. I have come to believe that the young artists’ ability to connect with the movement, its meaning and its execution, is directly correlated to the success of any given dance in performance.

These choreographic principles have begun to echo in my mind as I revise my current YA novel. As I watch closely for character consistency and struggle with the pacing of dramatic plot elements, I have come to think of this book as a sort of dance between myself and the imaginary reader. Will he or she believe this notion? Is this secret revealed to my reader too quickly? Will he or she find this answer too complex or too simple? As a choreographer and a writer, I have my own vernacular, my own voice. Yet, as a person who firmly believes in the essential craftsmanship of creative works, I strive to find a way to connect my style to the nature and experience of my reader. In the end, whether written or danced, the success of my work depends on the dialogue between me and those for whom I create.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


I have cleared my calendar. March freelance jobs: Finished in February. Bills: Mailed! Tax receipts for 2007: Compiled. (Before April 14th--you heard it.) Besides choreographing a kids’ musical, the only creative activity on my plate for March is…THE BUS. In late April I’ll be attending a writing conference at which I have already been scheduled for a manuscript critique with a terrific agent. The plan is to have the second draft of my NaNoWriMo opus saved and printed before this appointment. So, when the aforementioned esteemed agent (in my dreams) asks when I’ll have a completed manuscript to share, I can say: “Now! Right now! Here it is, perfectly formatted in Times New Roman 12-point!” Obviously this is a dream as no self-respecting writer would let fly three sequential exclamation marks. And even newbie novelists know that dumping 200-plus pages of hard copy into the hands of an agent at a conference is unacceptable behavior. Still, who doesn’t make up Newbery Award acceptance speeches while they sit in the elementary school carpool line? (Oh, admit it. You do it, too.)

So, there’s the clear calendar, the critique appointment, the plan and the dream. What’s the problem? Revision is hard. (Note that I edited out a lovely adjective to make that high-impact, three-word sentence.) There are so many little plot and sentence structure errors to fix; moments when emotional description bulges and necessary dialogue feels weak; opportunities for subtle images and plot nuances that take time and effort to add; and the weight of all those pages… Perhaps the biggest challenge is my need to reread big chunks of preceding text before working on a chapter. I feel like each day I edit two chapters after reading the six that come before it. The phrase “time consuming” does not begin to describe the process. And when you are a writer-on-the-side, working only when your toddler naps or after your kids go to sleep, not every day offers a chunk of time sufficient for re-reading and seriously re-working enough text to make the whole endeavor worth attempting.

There is some good news. I still love the characters, the plot and its taught, stylized structure. I still feel excited by the prospect of sharing my story with readers. So, having indulged my love of exclamation points and parentheticals here on the blog, I am forcing my overwhelmed mind and keyboard-weary fingers back to THE BUS.