Episode 113B – Diane Bator – Playwright

Overview

Diane is not only a cozy mystery writer, she helps run a theater and has written plays. This is a topic that most authors don’t know much about and she divulges quite a bit of great information about her process.

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Transcript

So Diane, let’s talk some author stuff. You’ve written multiple books at this point. So what are you doing different now that you, than what you used to do? What are some things you’ve learned that you’ve changed?

[00:24:11] Diane: I’ve taken out a lot of passive writing in by that. Things like has been, or had, or there’s those words that a lot of them are just fillers.

And they slow down the action. So I find taking out like has been, or had been, and just putting was just speeds the speeds up the flow of the sentence or the paragraph, whatever you’re working on. Okay.

[00:24:39] Stephen: And how did you learn that? Or who told you or how’d you, how were you told, Hey, maybe change this.

Where’d you get that from

[00:24:48] Diane: a lot of edits from editors I’ve 13 books in, I’ve dealt with a lot of editors I’ve done I’ve different writing courses there. I don’t think there was any one place that, that was really a thing. It was just one of those things you of start picking. and the, like we were saying, the more you read, the more you’re writing, the more you’re having feedback on your work, the more you start learning all of these little tricks and all of these little things.

[00:25:16] Stephen: Yeah, absolutely. Do you use, have you used anything like Grammarly or pro writing aid?

[00:25:23] Diane: I really haven’t. Okay. And. I th I’m not really sure why I haven’t I’ve thought about it, but I just, it’s just one of those things that I just haven’t

[00:25:34] Stephen: done. Got it. I, I have pro writing aid and I’ve learned so much from that.

My editors reinforced it, oh yeah. My editor just told me that I ignored it when pro writing aid told me, maybe I should listen. My, one of my big things when I first started was. Almost every paragraph had one or two sentences that started with an I N G word. And it was just, so once I realized it and then read it, I’m like, yeah, you’re right.

That doesn’t sound great. And now I rarely ever even do it cuz I’ve retrained myself. So yeah the editors definitely when they tell you something, listen and see, cuz I. I have a couple author friends one even said, oh, I didn’t get an editor because I don’t think they get what I was trying to do with the story.

I’m like, wow. Okay. And I think they sold a grand total of 20 books and that includes to friends. Yeah. Definitely listen to the editors, try the software for what it’s good for.

[00:26:34] Diane: Yeah, exactly. And one of the other big things, and I know it was always, actually two things that. I have a good friend.

Who’s a professional editor and she always would slap my wrist for was exclamation marks cause I was the queen of exclamation marks with my very first one. And the other one is repetitive words. Ah, and just using you have to find different words and right. And different cliches make your own cliches, that kind of thing.

Like. People start reading and they’re like, oh my gosh, you’ve said this word, like 12 times in one page. Like yeah, you have a

[00:27:13] Stephen: very limited vocabulary. and a lot of times you don’t even realize that.

[00:27:18] Diane: No, and that’s why you add it. You go back, you self, add it and you go, oh, or you do search on the computer with your word program or whatever program.

You do a search for a word. And it’s I didn’t realize you used that so

[00:27:31] Stephen: much. So what do you use to write what software, what services, what type of stuff is important for you for your writing?

[00:27:40] Diane: when I’m first starting to write a book, usually I’m pen and paper, really? Yeah. I, and I just, for me, it just lets my words flow better.

So especially a first draft, I will do a lot of pen and paper. And put it into the computer. And then later I think I hit about 50 to 70,000 words and I just use word really. That’s been my thing and I hit 50 to 70,000 words and then I print off a copy and I go through a, with paper and pen and I just added everything.

And then after that comes the fine

[00:28:19] Stephen: tuning. Got it. And what you just said. I think also I know a lot of new authors and myself included. I’m still in that category ish. It’s really hard to edit your own stuff until you’ve had an editor or like we said some software telling you where the problems are and then.

It becomes easier. And I know when I read other people’s stuff, I’m like, oh, this doesn’t sound real great. No, this could sound better. And maybe I get a little too critical. I don’t usually say it to their face, but it’s a, an exercise to help me. In my own, cuz it’s much easier to recognize problems in other people’s writing than your own.

But once you get used to recognizing it, then you start picking it up. Oh, I’m doing the same thing here. exactly. So it’s all practice in is how I view it.

[00:29:10] Diane: Oh, absolutely.

[00:29:12] Stephen: Okay. Your books, what do you do to market your books?

[00:29:16] Diane: In the past, I’ve done a lot of my own on social media live events when I can working full time.

It’s a little more difficult to do a lot of the live events right now. I, it suddenly ended up with two or three different live ones and I’m like, oh, okay. I’ve had, especially during COVID, I’ve found that because I was online a lot more. And doing a lot more kind of group stuff. Like I joined a couple of different writing groups, online and stuff, and I got a lot of great ideas from some of them.

Some of them have more freedom, so they can go and take up space in a bookstore on a Thursday afternoon for a couple hours. But some of us can’t do that. So we just have to get out there and social media is a big thing. What do you sell many hard to tell. In person is great, but it depends on what kind of an event you’re at as well.

Whether people are actually looking for a book or if they’re at a farmer’s market and just trying to grab dinner. So

[00:30:20] Stephen: so yeah. Have you found You’re when you’re releasing your latest book, it’s seventh and a series 13th overall, do you find that it sells better than your books did originally?

And then when you reach number seven, does like number one through six pick up also that, do you see those type of things happening? Yeah, absolutely.

[00:30:41] Diane: They do. The people that have read your books before are gonna go, oh, great. A new one. Oh, what do you mean? It’s the last one of the series. Okay. Now I have to get it.

And even people with this specific book, if they haven’t read it before, as I said, I had a couple of really great reviews on this last book and they actually said, yeah, you need to go back and read the series. So I’m like, nice. Nice. Thank you.

[00:31:06] Stephen: Okay. And let’s talk about something that a lot of people.

May not have thought about and may be interested or at least something that I’ve never thought about that, but let me listen and see you said you’re involved with a stage company. Tell us what your job is, what you do with that.

[00:31:26] Diane: I actually run the box office for a professional theater.

Okay. It, we’re just a small theater where we have 273 seats, which. This past season, we only had about half of that because of restrictions and stuff, but come this fall, we’re going back to full audience, which is very cool. , it’s been a long time. And in that capacity, I get to read a lot of scripts.

I get to see a lot of plays. I get to meet all kinds of performers and playwrights and act just every. It’s just, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of work sometimes but it is a lot of

[00:32:06] Stephen: fun. Okay. So you’ve been exposed to a lot of screenwriting or not playwriting. And you decided to write one yourself.

You said. So tell us about, I did the decision and what’s the story about a little.

[00:32:22] Diane: We have this running thing at the, because the theater where I work it, part of it is town hall and the building itself was built in 1875. And we always talk about the ghosts. So I haven’t personally seen any, but I know I’ve heard things.

I know things have happened. And other crew and staff and crew have seen things and heard. So I’m like, oh, this is fun. So I very slowly over the last probably two or three years worked on a play called secrets that haunt them. And it’s about a ghost in the theater. And I was really fortunate.

January 20, 21, 1 of the biggest playwrights in Canada offered a workshop virtually, which he has never, ever done before. and I’m like, oh, I’m crazy. If I don’t do this, I’m totally crazy. So I got in there and I took his workshop and I worked on this play and just this year, got it totally to the point where I was happy with it.

And I sent a version to him and I gave a version to our artistic director. Who’s my boss and said, okay, tell me what I need to fix. Norm foster, who is the playwright in Canada? He actually runs foster festival in Southern Ontario. He came back and said, okay fix this, but you’re good.

It’s awesome. Nice. And the things I had to fix was like a name and the way someone spoke, she said she should be a little more old fashioned. And that was really it. Nice, good. And he was like, wow. . And my boss is okay, right now, June, he’s actually in a play for norm foster. And he said the same thing, you know what?

I’m in love with this play. We’re gonna, we’re gonna workshop it and then we’ll go from there. So great. Still leading So it’s not connected to your books. It’s separate. It’s separate story. Totally separate everything. Okay. Now, what did you find different about writing a play as opposed to writing a novel?

I am very much. Stronger with dialogue in my writing than I am with a lot of descri I don’t do a lot of description about everything. Like I like people just to get into the story and follow the story and not be taken away over here by some kind of description that really has nothing to do with the story.

Some people write like that and it’s lovely. And I don’t mind reading it, but I don’t write that way. So for me, writing script with little. Bits of, oh, this character absolutely has to do this. Otherwise the story won’t work was so much easier and I’ve gotten this start in about four plays since then.

So those will come eventually once books have calmed down here, but I just found it really interesting that the story has to be moved along by dialogue alone. You don’t. When you’re on stage and they’re moving and stuff. Yeah. There’s things that happen. But as the playwright, the story flows with the dialogue.

So I’ve found that really mean.

[00:35:50] Stephen: And so I know I’ve heard a few other authors say they. When they’re working, one of the exercises they’ve done is to write a story using just dialogue, leaving out description, leaving out action, all that, just do it through dialogue, and then use that as the foundation.

Have you tried that or done that with your books?

[00:36:11] Diane: What’s funny is sometimes when I’m writing a, when I’m writing a scene, especially if I’m somewhere else. I’ve become notorious for sitting at a restaurant or a doctor’s office. And I only have five minutes. So I’m scribbling, furiously. It’s all dialogue.

I’ll go back later when I add it into my computer and flush it out a little more and put in a little more description. And he said, she said stuff, but for the most part, it’s all straight dialogue.

[00:36:41] Stephen: Okay. And you already you’ve read a lot of plays and the way it’s formatted in that. So were there some things you had to learn or things you didn’t know when you first started writing it that someone said, Hey, you should do it this way or something like that?

Um, Yes and no. I think everybody always develops their own. Style and their own habits regardless of the rules. Oh, sorry. One

second.

[00:37:10] Diane: That’s okay. One of the things that norm foster did say when we were doing the workshop was to keep the stage direction to a minimum and his excuse for that was while actors don’t like being told what to.

So or directors so it was fun. And that was a big way to try and eliminate that. He crosses the stage and drinks, a glass of water kind of thing. You just had to do the dialogue. You only put in what’s necessary for any direction. So if I’m writing a scene and there’s One scene in the play is one of the characters has a pillow and she has to have that pillow because it becomes important to what happens in the scene.

So those kind of things that absolutely have to happen. You pop in there, but anything that is irrelevant to the story itself, you keep out.

[00:38:10] Stephen: So I know a lot. New authors, a lot of authors get in the habit of, even in their stories or books, things like he lifted his right foot, put it down and walked across, reached out and grasped the hand door knob and turned it to the right and pulled the door, and it’s just so unnecessary. So do you feel that doing it that way helped you to tighten things up for your writing for your books?

[00:38:37] Diane: Absolutely. What is the, I’m trying to think. There is an author I used to read and I can’t think of his name off the top of my head, but he’s very tight with his writing.

Very tight. Robert Parker, I wanna

[00:38:54] Stephen: say the Spencer series. Yes.

[00:38:57] Diane: Yeah. If you read his writing, it is very tight. There’s no. Extraneous, whatever and he’s, he too is very strong with the dialogue. So most of his books are dialogue. There’s not a huge amount of description and all of that, it’s just.

What necessarily has to be there.

[00:39:17] Stephen: I found lead child with the Reacher series is very similar. I just started reading some of that recently. I’m like, man, this is like a masterclass in succinct writing. E every sentence is like seven words or less. And every paragraph has just two or three sentences and it’s we walked out the door to the police car and that’s the total description.

Of everything of what, it’s not this stepped into the bright sunshine and it, which I’m not saying is bad and there’s a lot of style of writing and that, but it was refreshing. And especially that book, it’s supposed to be a thriller. So you want action so it’s a very good masterclass

[00:39:59] Diane: And that’s what makes it moves FA move faster and.

Feel more like an action.

[00:40:05] Stephen: Yes, absolutely.

[00:40:06] Diane: Instead. I mean there’s times where yes, you have parts in your book where it’s very quick, you get a lot of action. You got a lot of go. And yet there’s other points where you can slow down a little and the, your sentences will be a little bit longer or your dialogue will be a little different.

You won’t have just seven words. You’ll have. Eight or 10.

[00:40:26] Stephen: So you mentioned you had a couple others you were working on. Have you thought about taking those stories and turning ’em into novels? Like the novelization of the play?

[00:40:37] Diane: it’s funny, cuz I actually took an acting class, just we were just doing it for the fun of it.

And the instructor in the class read one of my books and she goes you should turn this into apply. We can do this. And I’m like, okay, that hasn’t happened yet but it’s in the back of my mind for sure. There were a couple of books that I’m like, yeah, I could probably do that fairly easily.

So

[00:41:01] Stephen: I’d be interested in that because I know there have been a couple movies I’ve watched that I’m like, wow, this movie just really feels like a play. Just every scene, the way it moves and the dialogue. And then I find out, yeah, it was based on a play. So I, yeah. wonder. The style of a novel would feel different based on a play and keeping the spirit and feeling of the play a bit good or bad.

[00:41:25] Diane: I think it depends on who writes probably each as well. If the playwright turns it into a book because of their training as a playwright, putting in more of that description and describing the action more, isn’t quite in their wheelhouse. So they really have to work at that part right. Where some of them do anyways.

Whereas you’re going from the other direction, silly phone. You’re going the other direction. You have to do the opposite. You have to par it down. You have to get rid of all of that stuff and go, okay. I just want the immediate stuff. I want the dialogue I want just the very minimal direct.

[00:42:09] Stephen: Got it. So what advice would you give to other authors who are listening, going? Yeah, I think I might like to write a play. What would you tell ’em

[00:42:20] Diane: read plays first or see plays first. You have to bear in mind that you have three acts, sometimes four, but normal. A lot of plays are three acts. So you have the very beginning, the whole setup and everything.

And then you have the second act where things are building building, and then your third act, things are resolved and coming down. And you really have to make sure that. The big action doesn’t happen in scene one. you want action? You want a lot of cool stuff, but you want it to keep building, right?

Just like writing a novel, you just have to build and build and build. So

[00:43:03] Stephen: it’s a, and. Sorry. Go ahead. Yeah, no, Nope. I was gonna say it sounds like it’s almost good practice for stories because it cuts it down to the bare minimum. Act one and boom, we have our conflict act two the rising action, like you said, and all that.

And then stepping into act three, we’re ready to do the finale and what’s going to happen. How’s it going then? That’s the. Fair minimum basics of a story that you always have to have, but so many authors, miss that, putting all these cool things in their book and they miss the story of it.

Yeah.

[00:43:38] Diane: Absolutely. I, like I said, I’ve read a few books for other people and there’s been a couple that they have great, great ideas. And I would love to see this book flash out and done and. , but they’ve stuck to the bare minimum. This is what happens. And this is what happened. I’m like, you’re forgetting this story.

This is an outline you have to build that outline into a real story. Another one that I read, he has a great idea and I’m looking forward to reading it once he’s finished it. But I’m reading this going, this reads more like a textbook. Same thing. You have great ideas and I’d really love to read more, but it’s you’re doing, this is your setting.

this is you’re describing all the foliage. Where are the characters? What’s the story what’s happening? Yes. And point of view is a huge, oh my gosh. Point of view is a huge thing. Some of these books, they don’t have a point of view. They have characters. they have, this is what’s going to happen, but we’re not getting the story from someone’s point of view.

No matter what type of genre or what type of point of view, if you’re a first person, second person, there still has to be a point of view. You have to know what’s going on in somebody’s eyes. How is that? How is point of view with plays? Because the story is pretty much, to me, it seems like it would always be third person from the audience’s point of view.

[00:45:11] Stephen: And there’s no in people’s heads. Yeah. I’ve seen plays with dialogue, someone talking off stage over top, like at thoughts and stuff, but for the most part, it has to be like you said, spoken and then their actions with that. So is it pretty much all third person point of view?

[00:45:28] Diane: Pretty much.

Yeah. Like you said, there’s ones that it’s, you have a narrator who tells the story and then gets into the action or is standing off at the side, but for the most part, yeah. Third person, cuz you’re watching this story. You can’t be you can’t be the person in the show. It’s like watching something on TV, the you’re watching third person action.

Even though a character may say I did this and I did this. And and they’re telling this story, you’re still watching it in third person.

[00:46:00] Stephen: Interesting. I hadn’t really ever thought about that, but again, good practice to keep you I’ve always subscribed to the, instead of having everything available, if you have limited, but you still have to create using whatever limited resources.

You get more creative, you come up with good ideas, but when you have everything, yeah. My, my example for that is in video games, Mario very recognizable little character, but he’s got this huge mustache. The reason he has a huge mustache is because when they first created him, there wasn’t enough pixels on the screen to make a whole face.

So they just gave them a mustache because that’s all they could do, but it’s iconic and people know it now. The limitations sometimes can actually make for a better product is absolutely. So the same thing with a play people are like, oh, it’s too limiting, blah, blah, blah. But forcing yourself into that mode can help you really struggle and get better results from that.

Yeah. So I like that. That’s

[00:47:01] Diane: cool. Yeah, absolutely. And I like that idea, but the writing exercise, just using dialogue, like. we’ve all done writing exercises where you just use descriptors and no dialogue. But using it just with dialogue to make a story and make it flow and make it work.

there’s a challenge.

[00:47:20] Stephen: Yes, absolutely. So you mentioned reading plays, where can people find plays to read like the actual scripts?

[00:47:28] Diane: See, I got I’m lucky. right? Yeah. That we get a lot of scripts and we get to read them all and they’re all on my computer. You can find them I’ve actually found them in bookstores and stuff as well as online.

So you just have to check them out. Google plays. There, there are ways that you can get scripts from different plays and stuff. You just have to find ones that are of interest or just Google in general and find out how to find copies of

[00:48:02] Stephen: scripts. Yeah. I actually, my son works at. A comic book in a collectable store and they had a published version of the screenplay for the three original star wars movies.

Oh, cool. I was like, okay, I’m coming down. I’ll I’m but I know it’s a screenplay, but it was interesting to read cuz it’s totally different than a book and the movie itself it was interesting had to have it yeah,

[00:48:29] Diane: of course. I think you’re a bit of a fan. It looks like it

[00:48:32] Stephen: does.

Yeah. You think so? And what’s really got, I was like, oh my gosh. Last week I talked to Armen Shimerman who played cork on star Trek, DS nine. Oh, cool. So I’ve got all this star wars stuff. I didn’t even have the star Trek logo up there or anything. I was like, oh man, , he’s done lots of stuff I, if I have star wars up there and I’m talking to a star Trek actor, I really should have put that up too.

So if he doesn’t have to listen to this episode, I apologize. All right this has been great talking to you. Before we go, do you have any last minute advice for new authors?

[00:49:09] Diane: Just don’t give up write what you love to write. Get an editor. , that’s a biggie or find somebody who will be more than happy to beta read, but make sure they actually know what they’re doing,

[00:49:25] Stephen: right?

Yeah. I don’t I try and stay away from too many friends and family beta reading because you could, oh, that was good. Great. What’d you like about it? Oh, it was just good. I enjoyed the whole thing that doesn’t really help me. And I don’t believe you. I’m sorry. You know exactly right. Yeah. so I never try and enforce, except my son actually is pretty good and he likes ripping me apart.

So he’ll give me really good feedback on things. So

[00:49:54] Diane: I have one of those sons too.

[00:49:56] Stephen: great. All right. Diane it’s been great talking to you. I appreciate it. And I wish you luck on your books.

[00:50:03] Diane: Thank you, Steven. It was lovely to meet you. Yes.

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