At the heart of every worthwhile piece of fiction is a compelling story that, once started, keeps an audience engaged, riveted, and/or enthralled until its end. This captivating quality is generally realized through an artful blend of clarity, conflict, and intensity.

What are the different advantages and challenges of telling the tale by means of a book or a play?

Between 1990 and the end of the century, I wrote eight full-length stage plays, all of which were professionally produced with varying degrees of success. Last year, I wrote my one and only novel, Slipping on Stardust, which was released by Secret Cravings Publishing early this year.

One might conclude from these statistics that I have a decided preference for playwriting. One would be wrong.

There are two strong pleasure points in the playwriting process—writing the beast and observing an audience respond to it. In between these two happenings, however, some fairly nasty things go on, such as casting, rehearsals, and director and designer conferences.

I’m aware of several great dramatic actors (Geraldine Page and Ingrid Bergman come to mind) who said in print that the proper function of actors, directors, and designers is to serve the theme of the play, as conceived by the playwright. With very few treasured exceptions, the actors and directors with whom I’ve worked labored under no such encumbrance. Rather their rather fragile egos required them to impress upon the work their own, self-centered vision of their particular role, much as animals mark territory.

Novelists have infinitely more control since they not only write the dialogue as playwrights do, but they also dictate/describe the setting, how the characters move around in it, and how and with what motivation and emotion characters speak their lines, thus preempting the interference of theatre colleagues. Playwrights who attempt to exercise control over these matters by peppering their scripts with plentiful unspoken stage directions and parenthetical line indications are often faced with actors and directors who regard as their first job crossing them all out, sometimes supplementing their deletions with accusations of territorial invasion by the playwright. It’s all quite tiresome.

For me, the greatest challenge and pleasure of writing my first novel was to attempt to achieve an effective balance between character-distinctive dialogue (which was familiar territory) and descriptive passages dealing with not only physical surroundings but also the psychic landscape of the characters.

The heady independence of the novelist can, however, sometimes be threatened by the intervention of an ignorant, frustrated, or prejudiced editor. Early on, I experienced the torture of working with a person who was bountifully endowed with all three qualities. Finally, I was faced with the choice of producing a child that I would hate forever or cancelling a publishing contract—a rather cheeky move for a first-time novelist. My courage was rewarded by subsequently signing with Secret Cravings Publishing, where I’ve worked with a team of talented professionals, including an extraordinarily gifted editor.

In sum, my experience has been that writing a novel is generally a more varied, more autonomous exercise than writing a play. And as for the thrill of observing the reaction of a live audience, there’s always the film version of the novel to look forward to.

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