Subject to Interpretation

Several years ago, I was working on a play. I had written the script, and was attending the rehearsals periodically at the director’s request to consult on the production. Seeing something that you’ve written go through the rehearsal process is always…odd. Hearing an actor give voice to the words that you’ve written, to the character that formed in your head, can be simultaneously exciting and disconcerting. You really have to try to separate yourself from how the character was saying those lines in your head, because there’s a completely different aspect to a performed piece than to a piece that’s only read by your audience.

I remember walking into the auditorium one night late in the rehearsal process, looking up on the stage, and seeing my character. I’ve always called that moment the “spark.” It’s the moment in which I stop believing that the person on stage is the actor and begin believing that it’s the character that I’m seeing. For the actor,  it’s the moment when the character takes over…also simultaneously exciting and disconcerting. When it’s your character that you’re seeing and in which you’re believing…well, there’s something holy about it at that point, as well.

I’ve never had cover art drawn for anything that I’ve written. My work has always been published in magazines, journals, or the like, or on the web. I recently arranged with a colleague to have some cover art drawn for two short stories that I’ll be self-publishing in the near future. I confess that I briefly considered attempting it myself, but, some shaky Photoshop skills aside, I’m no graphic designer. I decided to leave it to the professionals, and I’m excited to see the result.

I’m excited because I was laying in bed a couple of nights ago re-reading a book from my childhood, when I realized that the way I was viewing the protagonist…the way that she sounded in my head, even…was directly connected to how she appeared on the cover of the book. There’s an interesting connection there, the way in which one art form informs your interpretation of another. I wonder how I would have “seen” that character if the cover art had been different? I wonder how much differently I see characters in books that do not feature a character on the cover?

More to the point, I wonder how I will react when I see one of my characters on a cover? Will they look the way that I envisioned them? Likely not, and neither did the character in my play years ago when I watched her come to life…as I have many others through the years…in the skillful hands of that actor.

Writing fiction involves, by nature, more description than playwriting. I generally spend a couple of paragraphs describing a character’s appearance, what they’re wearing, their body language, etc., the first time that they appear, and re-visit at least general appearance at key scenes later in the work. When writing a script, I may make mention of a clothing item critical to the scene, but I intentionally leave a lot of things blank, because they’re up for the director and actor to fill in. It will be interesting to see how a designer fills in the fewer blanks left by fiction, but I think that it will be very similar to releasing that character to be interpreted by an actor and director. Because, as with all art, there’s a subjective element to it. The designer will see my characters differently than I do.

I can’t wait to see how it turns out.                                      


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