Becoming a playwright was never on my radar, but you know how that goes.
I am a writer. I’ve spent my career in newspapers as a reporter, columnist and editor, and have an impressive backlist of unpublished novels.
Apparently, these facts qualified me to write an original Sherlock Holmes murder mystery, in the opinion of some folks who attended a murder mystery weekend and wanted to reproduce it in our hometown.
They painted a pretty picture of how it would be; the play in three acts, each performed over a meal during the course of a weekend in which attendees would wear period costumes, search for clues and attempt to solve the mystery and win a cash prize and bragging rights.
Then we could run the show in its entirety over two weekends at our community theater.
I asked these optimists what made them think I could write a play, and informed them I’d read one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. Just one. Decades earlier.
No problem! They were Holmsians and would make sure I stayed true to the canon–to a certain point. And as for the writing part, wasn’t I a writer?
So I agreed to give it a shot, and in 2009, “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Taylor Tontine” was produced in two venues in Cambridge, Ohio. Somehow I’d become a playwright.
The process of writing a full-length play was a challenge. But it was also lots of fun, and not so different from creating dialogue between characters in a novel. For research I read a number of Sherlock Holmes stories for background and to get the flavor of what I was to create.
That first show made use of historic facts peculiar to our town. Since I was working with someone else’s characters in Holmes and Watson, I had to be careful to keep them true to their characters as Doyle wrote them. My Holmesian friends helped keep me on track there, much as an author might use beta readers to vet a book or story before trying to get it published.
I’ve written a total of six Sherlock Holmes plays and am working on a seventh, which will be performed at Pritchard Laughlin Civic Center in Cambridge in November, 2021. (In case you’d like to attend!)
As for my actual creative process, it differs from project to project. I find the synergy of discussing plot ideas with my Holmesian buddies really gets my juices flowing, so I bounce plot and character ideas off them before I start. This is not my process when writing a novel, which I approach in a more solitary way. Writing for the newspaper is another animal altogether. So before you start writing, think about your audience and purpose to give you direction. I certainly wouldn’t write a novel or play in proper AP style as I must a news story.
When writing a novel, it’s full speed ahead. When writing a Sherlock play, I’ll complete an act, then it’s back to my beta readers for a reality check; does it work? Does it make sense? Is it reasonably canonical?
Things don’t always work. Earlier this year I had a false start, because an idea I had simply didn’t work no matter how hard I tried to shove the square pegs into the round holes. So I threw the entire first act, days of work, into the trash and started over. That’s the way it goes sometimes. You’ve got to be honest with yourself when writing anything. If it stinks, toss it and start over. It hurts, but not as much as it will if you wait even longer.
When it comes to writing, I just sit down and do it. It’s a discipline, like anything else. It won’t do itself. It doesn’t matter if I’m in the mood or not. I write.
During the pandemic, my chapter of the Romance Writers of America started something helpful. Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday members lead writing sprints from 7-9 p.m. We’d write for 20 minutes, then break for 10 minutes, three times each evening. You can get a lot done that way, and it encourages discipline. Additionally, the spirit of support given by the other writers helped me to stay motivated. I wrote a whole novel that way in 2020. Writing is work, and work gets done when you do it. Period.
The key to writing, as with any task, is regular, planned work sessions. Writing is work, and work gets done when you do it. Period.
If you’re interested in writing a play, read some plays before you dive in. Also, most plays are published in Standard American Script format. Look it up, and start off using it to save time later. I didn’t and wished I’d known better.
To see your play produced, start with your local community theater, school or church, and write a play about something you think will interest not only you, but also local theater-goers. Some community theaters have one-act-play nights to get new playwrights off the ground.
Why not give it a go? Create something you love, and see where it goes from there. I thought I could, so I did! So can you.
Anne is a woman-of-a-certain age, a newspaper editor, playwright, actor, director, author of an unpublished backlist of novels, mother of five grown children and provider for several standard poodles. Anne spends way too much time reading, neglecting her housework and managing to keep her plants alive - mostly. She loves to kayak and swim, and did I mention reading? As the recipient of two new hips, she's the Bionic Woman, which is pretty cool. She's currently working to publish a sweet Amish romance set in a town of her own creation, and a paranormal romance that isn't as sweet, but which she had a lot of fun writing during the pandemic.