Saturday, 4 October 2008

Why aren't I writing another show?

I've just listened to some recordings of Guilds, the musical I co-wrote (a working DVD, alas, hasn't yet reached me), and was at once reminded of several of the most satisfying aspects of writing a show. My writing, such as it is, came alive in a way that simply isn't possible with a book. I would send off fresh lyrics to the show's composer, and in return would receive a recording of a new song. The characters, previously existing only in our imaginations, took on a life of their own when the roles were filled by real actors, most of them close friends. Being among the cast/crew and seeing how much joy the show was obviously bringing them. Watching audiences being entertained, laughing (in most of the right places...) and applauding. None of these happens to an author, at least until he gets so famous that his work is adapted for the screen or stage - hardly something to assume will happen!

Why throw that away and write a book instead? Why confine myself into one of the most solitary processes possible? Several reasons. The first is purely pragmatic; when I'd decided to start writing again, my previous collaborator was not available, and I wasn't desirous of trying to find another and trying to develop a similar rapport. Second, I'd found that the plot and dialogue had come much more naturally to me than the lyrics, and while I believe that my lyrics show a strong degree of craftsmanship, they lack somewhat in emotional clout. I can do 'clever' a lot better than I can do 'sincere', and that is a limitation indeed for a lyricist. I want to try a different medium, and see if I am more suited to writing in it. I'm not a huge fan of straight theatre, so it was either through-composed opera (probably something like Britten) or a novel. Opera librettists are unquestionably second-class citizens, and I fancied finding an appropriate composer even less than for musicals. So a novel it is.

My writing style is increasingly turning out like early Pratchett, but without the fantasy. While pleasing, and a little unsurprsiing, this worries me, because early Pratchett used the fantasy to drive the plot and to provide interesting situations for his strong characters to deal with in a decidedly non-fantastic manner. His later work is more character-driven, but still retains the complexity of plot and setting afforded by his rich fantasy world. Guilds, if anything, fitted this mould better - it had real characters in a ridiculous setting that was self-consistent and fully real to its inhabitants, and a lot of the (plot-driven) show's freshness derived directly from its setting - this aspect of the show is one that I think we did very well indeed. Leaves of plausibility floating on a lake of silliness. Upbeat worries me because it is, if anything, too real - it is a very mundane setting and the plot is, frankly, uninspired. I think the characters are strong and the story a good one, and I think the book will be funny, but I'm worried that the plot and setting are insufficiently interesting to provide a good enough backdrop to a character-driven novel. Having realistic characters is essential for any writing, and the interest must ultimately derive from them. I worry that I'm turning away from the most successful aspect of my one previous project.

(On a side note, I find the Discworld novels are relying less and less on the fantasy, and there are times now when the fantasy actually gets in the way - pretty much all the fantasy (setting excpeted) in Making Money could be cut without harming the book, except for the Deus Ex Machina golden golems. Not his best.)

Perhaps the solution to this is to keep the characters and the basic story, but dump the orchestra tour and move the story somewhere more interesting. One of the strengths of the project so far is in making humour from the extremely mundane (the edited stuff does this better than the blog posts!), but this is possible in pretty much any setting.


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