Monday, June 30, 2014

Playwriting vs Novel writing

Today I'd like to talk a bit about the differences between writing plays and writing novels. I don't think either one is easier than the other, and there are some things to keep in mind if you try to switch from writing one to the other.

Difference one: Directing

With a novel, you are the director.  When you sit down to write the story, you control everything. If you want a character to do, feel, think, or act in a certain way- they do. You push the pen (or keyboard) and the character jumps. You even control how they look, smell, talk, and so on.  A novelist is more than a director, they're the god of their world, pulling every string to weave the tapestry of their story.  Many claim they let the characters "tell them" what to do as they write, but whether consciously or not, it's still all in the author's hands.  Even an editor who steps in to mention things that need tweaking, ultimately gives it back to the author to tweak.  John Doe might need to scream, running away from a burning building in a scene, but won't until the author orders him to.

On the other hand, a playwright might have an idea of how a play should look, but ultimately they will probably not direct it.  Yes, some playwrights direct their own scripts, but eventually that script should leave the playwrights' hands.  Theatre is an organic art, created by groups instead of individuals.  A playwright creates a situation and dialogue, but it's a director who interprets that dialogue, and actors and designers who bring the interpretation to life.  One thing I constantly remind my playwriting students is to avoid drafting too many stage directions, as blocking is the job of others.  If John Doe says help, the word comes from the playwright. The choice to scream for help comes from the actor. Screaming for help while sprinting across stage comes from the director's blocking, and the burning building collapsing overhead comes from the director, designer, and stage hands.  The words belong to the playwright, but the theatrical presentation comes from a group effort, not an individual.  For many authors used to total control over a world, this is intimidating.  Novel writing involves growing a garden, picking the vegetables, and cooking a meal. Playwriting is planting seeds and watering, trusting others to harvest.

Difference two: senses

People have five senses.  One advantage of novelists is the ability to create a world that touches all five senses.  Bob walked to the store with the red awning, basking in the warm sunlight. He sat, smelling the fresh sesame bagels. Taking a bite, he heard a dog bark behind him.  Characters experience all five senses, and details incorporating all of the senses help to create a more vivid and realistic world.  Not only can all senses be described, but internal reactions can accompany a sense.  I pulled the fork to my lips and gagged, revolted at the bitter taste.  

However, all of the above is an illusion.  In reality, books only enter a reader's mind through ONE sense. Every sense mentioned above traveled to your brain through sight.  If you're listening to an audio book, you only hear the words and nothing else.  In theatre, we use a combination of visual and auditory stimulation simultaneously.  You hear and see everything happening onstage.  Experimental theatre pushes the boundaries of sensory experience even further.  Here in Washington DC, the theatre troupe "Dog and Pony" uses a blend of audience interaction, tactile objects, and a pre-show buffet styled after the production, to engage every sense. In their show Beertown, for example, the townsfolk enjoy an assortment of desserts and dishes, while talking to the dignitaries of the town (actors) about a series of objects to be voted on as part of the interactive show.  No author could fully engage his audience more thoroughly, no matter how many senses were written about.  Even in traditional theatre, the actors themselves can experience the world of the play through sight, sound, touch, and sometimes smell and taste.  In a production of Inherit the Wind, I had deliver a monologue between bites of fried chicken.  My reality of the story was heightened, in turn heightening it for the audience.     

Difference three: the bubble

The final difference I'll discuss lies in the process of creation itself.  Writing books, for most authors, is a solitary business.  There might be research or collaborative discussions in a writing group, but ultimately the author lives in a bubble, dreaming of his or her world.  Many authors cannot ave any distractions, and can only write when the walls of this bubble are thickest.

To be fair, there are some playwrights who write the same way. They sit in isolation, crafting dialogue and imagining a vision for the stage.  Yet, since theatre is an organic art, created by groups instead of individuals, many plays take shape in group settings.  If you're writing a musical, you work with a composer and librettist to craft a work.  Other pieces are based on a collaboration between you and and ensemble.  When I met Rachel, she worked at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, a space devoted to only premiering and workshopping new plays.  After every premiere, the producer, playwright, and director all came out and asked the audience what elements worked and didn't work.  In a way, the audience played a role in editing and drafting the final version of the production.  Other plays are more collaborative from the beginning.  Director/playwright Mary Zimmerman made a name for herself by watching her theatre troupe improvise based on a situation, and then crafting dialogue based on the improvisations.  In those situations the playwright has no bubble at all.

What are your thoughts?  Have you considered switching from novels to plays?

Monday, June 23, 2014


The Name A Dragon Contest recently ended.  The two selected Dragon names (both of which will appear in Sword of Deaths) are Sarmarin and Elkanah.

The next contest is here.  

LIKE the book trailer for School of Deaths on youtube , and then SHARE it at least FIVE times (on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc) and you could win a 20 dollar Amazon Gift Card!  Details for the trailer contest can be found here:  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Interview with fellow author Kai Strand

Today the Poet's Fire welcomes fellow Muse It Up author Kai Strand.  I interviewed Kai about her novel Polar Opposites, and the Super Villain Academy Series.

The idea for SVA sounds super-fun, what inspired you to develop a school for villains?

I love super heroes and I like books set in a school setting, Harry Potter, Vampire Academy, Hex Hall, but all the characters seem to be learning how to be nice. One day I thought, “Who trains the bad guys? Super villains can’t just happen – knowing how to use their powers and how best to be baddies.” That got my mind whirring and soon I was writing a book about a school where kids learn to be good at being bad.

If you could have one super-power, what would it be, and why? 

  It’s funny that you ask this, because I’m taking a survey on my website ( that asks this very question! If I had one power, I would want the ability to be in more than one place at a time. That way, I could keep writing while taking my kids to their after school activities, grocery shopping, doing school visits, helping ducklings safely cross the road, etc…

Once you have an idea, how does your writing take shape?  Do you use an outline?  

I’m a pantser (write by the seat of my pants). I’ve found that an outline kills my creativity. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think through an idea before I delve into it. I’ve usually given it a lot of thought before I start a new project. Then when I do start, I keep a separate document where I make note of things like names, relationships, eye/hair color, characteristics, etc. Especially helpful when writing a series. Other than that, I just sit and write, from beginning to end and then I edit the same way, again and again. I’ll also read aloud (usually to my kids, for their feedback) and I try to go through a manuscript backward at least once during the editing process. Both of those editing tactics help me to spot things I wouldn’t otherwise pick up on during the other editing passes, like sluggish pacing, awkward writing, missing words. Though I find editing tedious, it is a necessary evil.

What's your favorite thing to do when not writing?

Spending time outside. We live in Central Oregon, which is absolutely beautiful and I love to explore its desert, mountains, rivers, lakes, buttes, lava flows. My family and I hike, canoe, and geocache, on a regular basis.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?

I would love if when your visitors are filling out my Super survey, they take a little extra time to browse my website and familiarize themselves with my other books. I write both middle grade and young adult. If they visit my contact page, they’ll find all of my online haunts and they can sign up for my newsletter so they don’t miss book announcements, exclusive content and giveaways! Thanks for hosting me, Chris!

About the book:

The supers are balanced. All’s well in the super world. Right? When dogs drag Oceanus away, Jeff learns the supers are so balanced, they no longer care to get involved. The only one who seems to care is Oci’s ex-villain, ex-boyfriend, Set. With Jeff’s own powers unbalanced and spiraling out of control, he wonders if they will find Oci before he looses control completely, and if they’ll find her alive.

Add on Goodreads 

About the author:

When her children were young and the electricity winked out, Kai Strand gathered her family around the fireplace and they told stories, one sentence at a time. Her boys were rather fond of the ending, “And then everybody died. The end.” Now an award winning children’s author, Kai crafts fiction for kids and teens to provide an escape hatch from their reality. With a selection of novels for young adult and middle grade readers and short stories for the younger ones, Kai entertains children of all ages, and their adults. Learn more about Kai and her books on her website,

Monday, June 16, 2014

Are Writers Like Voldemort?

Two recent reviews compared School of Deaths to the Harry Potter series. I decided to play on that a bit with this question: are writers like Voldemort?

I say YES.

The first similarity is that both writers and Voldemort use magic.  Voldemort's magic mostly involves torturing and killing people.  He seems especially obsessed with a teenage boy, and finds ways to get into the boy's mind.  A writer also uses magic.  Writers use a group of arcane symbols arranged into clumps they call words.  Like a spell, they can take an image, something that only exists as a slight fancy in their imagination, and dump it into the imaination of their reader.  As I type, an elephant walked in front of my window stinking of manure.  Did you picture an elephant, or smell manure?  What if I then told you there was no elephant?  That transference is the most real form of magic imaginable....

"Writing is magic." - Stephen King, On Writing

Another striking similarity is in what both writers and Voldemort want: eternal life.  Voldemort is obsessed with the idea of immortality.  He kills people to create horcruxes, ironially causing his own downfall and death, when one of the horcruxes fights back.  Writers are no different.  It's true that many might simply want to share their ideas, but in the end, by creating stories that will endure, a writer has taken part of their soul and created something eternal: a part of their soul that can be shared in another's mind, and could last forever.  Sounds a lot like making horcruxes- only without all the murders.  

So what do you think?  Are writers like Voldemort?

Also, don't miss this stellar new review for School of Deaths:

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Book Trailer

The Official trailer is here!  3.5 hours of filming, and 3 months of editing result in the official book trailer for School of Deaths.  Please SHARE if you'd read this book!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday the 13th

This is an exceptionally unusual Friday the 13th.  The sun is launching massive solar flares towards Earth.  The moon appears tonight as a "super moon" a full moon, even larger than normal.  These strane phenomena can only mean that the World of Deaths is closer than you might think...

School of Deaths celebrates this Friday the 13th, with a 24-stop Book Blast.  Stop at any of the below blogs and leave a omment for a chance to win a 20 dollar Amazon Gift Card.

The culmination of such an event is the in-person Book Launch event, which will be held in Gaithersburg, MD tonight.  If near Washington, DC stop on by and meet the author, plus see the premier of the official book trailer!  

And don't forget to visit for more about the book!  

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Guest Post: Heather Greenis

Today I welcome fellow author Heather Greenis:

Thanks so much for hosting me, Chris. Allow me to begin by saying how much I enjoyed your book, School of Deaths.  I highly recommend it.  I would have given you 5 stars, but being new to the field, as I am, we have room to grow and develop.  Can’t wait for the sequel.

As for my journey, it began over 10 years ago with an actual dream that I couldn’t get out of me head. My imagination took over and voila, a 4 book saga. It was my husbands idea that I write. I’m certain there are days he regrets that. I’m addicted to my laptop. Pandora’s Box has been opened!

The Natasha saga is just that, a continuing saga. A family drama with a bit of comedy mixed in. What family doesn’t have their comical moments. This is not a typical romance novel. Boy meets girl, fall in love, have a crisis and everyone lives happily ever after. The story is deeper. The men that are reading this are enjoying it. I’ve had some amazing reviews from guys. Readers tell me it makes them chuckle, tear up and cringe.  Mission accomplished. I hope it makes people think.

I read a lot of different genre’s so I doubt I’ll take on another saga, but you never know.  Never say never. Currently, I’m playing with some other projects that I hope to submit.

The Natasha Saga - Natasha’s Dream, Natasha’s Diary, Natasha’s Hope and Natasha’s Legacy.

It’s about greed, compassion, sacrifice among other things.
Natasha’s world is turned upside down once she volunteers at an orphanage. 
Now, her dream is to escape a horrid future.  There are severe consequences.                             
Who is Alexander?  And why is he invading Keeghan’s dreams?

It’s a great time to buy them. They are all reduced from their regular price.  click on the blue ‘view in itunes button.

for more links, or to contact me see my website.
My books are listed on goodreads

leave a comment below for a chance to win a free copy of one Heather's books!

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Best Day of My Life

This past Friday was the best day of my entire life.  Rachel and I awoke in Bethany Beach, Delaware. We were staying at a large mansion (a rental) with friends and family.  I made pancakes, we had a quick rehearsal, and then it was time to separate and start getting ready.

After being cloudy and rainy all morning, the sky parted and the sun started to shine.  I walked to the beach, where our minister Nancy waited at the site, which was already set up.

After processing with my parents, I turned and started to cry.  At the top of the dune stood the most beautiful woman I've ever seen, my bride Rachel.  

Her half-brother John led her to the beach.  After an introduction, I sang "Unchained Melody," then Nancy gave a sermon.  We held a sand ceremony, pouring colored sand while speaking our vows. We'd written them at the same time last Valentine's Day, but hadn't heard each other's vows until the ceremony.  It was wonderful.

We exchanged rings and were pronounced man and wife.  Then we took photos on the beach with our photographers before heading to a reception at Mango's, a restaurant above the beach.  I loved being surrounded by family and friends, thrilling in the delight of the day.

Finally, we returned to the beach house, where we had our first dance, and then spent the evening dancing with our friends.  It was the best day of our lives.  We spent the following day relaxing on the beach.