Making it Real

Posted on August 10, 2008

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An important part of the writer’s role is to make the story ‘real’ to the audience. We are encouraged to find the right details to create that illusion of reality. Often this takes the form of the degree of authority present in the author’s voice. But what details do we need to incorporate? We need sufficient to allow the reader to fill in the blanks without overloading with detail.

Recently I saw a play that provided an example of how minimal detail enables the mind of the audience to fill in these blanks.

The play was A Fair Arrangement, the first production by the newly formed Freshly Ground Theatre.

The stage settings were minimal. One side contained a sofa with a dressing table to the rear. This represented the house’s living area. The opposite side contained a bench-like table, stove, refrigerator and stove. This was clearly the kitchen-dining area. Approximately half-way across the stage lay a wood and brick construction, set at an angle so that all of the audience could see it.

The construction was a wall. Not a physical one as such as that would have obscured parts of the stage. It was a figurative detail which had significance to the plot. It actually looked very little like a wall but the audience immediately recognised it for what it was and the mind filled in the necessary extra detail. The same general effect may have been achieved with use of lighting, and lighting was used at different points to focus attention on one part of the stage or other, but the illusion of the wall completed the illusion.

While thinking about this afterwards, I realised just how significant a detail this wall was and how it illustrated the importance of detail in establishing authority of voice. After all, if it isn’t ‘real’ then the audience soon loses interest.

Finding those details and using them to create that degree of authenticity is what the writer’s job is all about.

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