Bigger is Better: Theatre Wisdom for Writers

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We’ve all heard the old adage, “Bigger is better.” Fun fact: it’s as true in theatre as it is in writing.

So as an actor, you hear a lot of advice and direction to start big. Because after all, reining in is easier than building up. In an audition, a director wants to see how far you can go; you don’t have time to build. They know they can pull back whatever is too much.

I’ve heard successful writers say not to hold anything back – toss in the kitchen sink! For one, it gives you more to work with, which in turn allows the story to take new and interesting paths you otherwise probably wouldn’t explore. For another – and I say this having just finished revising a novel – taking out is so much easier than adding in. And so much faster!

So explore and experiment. Don’t hold back. If you think it’s too much or over the top, well, that’s what revision is for.

Of course, I’m terrible at taking this advice for myself. As an actor, I build characters gradually, by layers. But you lose subtlety at a distance; it doesn’t necessarily translate well onstage. How much more effectively might I communicate the character if I started bigger and filled out from there?

Fear holds me back – holds most of us back. Fear of looking ridiculous, fear of expectations and disappointments.

My best stories are the ones written without fear. The ones where I go, “Well, let’s see what happens when I do this.” And those are also the stories that start bigger.

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