Daily Archives: February 16, 2015

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How Choreographing a Musical Led Me to Writing a Novel

February 16, 2015 by in category The Writing Journey by Denise Colby tagged as , , ,

Right now I am in the middle of choreographing a musical for my son’s middle school. We are doing Aladdin, Jr., and I am working with 60 5th-8th graders. As I draw out diagrams of who goes where and count beats, I realize that all this orchestrating I’m doing is another form of storytelling, just like writing a book. As Co-Director I’m making decisions on how we tell the story, just like writers decide what scenes they write for their book.

There are several directions a plot can take, secondary characters to introduce and specific settings to create. Just like there are several types of steps to select and put in a specific order. Where does the cast enter and exit? Do I line them up in a straight line or group them together? What are their hands doing? Their facial expressions? What are the movements communicating? There needs to be emotion, conflict, responses to other’s actions, and it all has to connect in order to get the story across properly. The choices can be overwhelming. I find I have to just go for it and pick one. If it doesn’t work I can change it if I need to. That’s what we do when writing a novel.
As I pondered this, I found more similarities between staging a musical and writing a novel. In a musical, there are sets and costumes that make the setting. In a book we write descriptions of clothes, buildings and surroundings to help communicate the setting. In a musical, the ensemble cast adds to the storytelling, helping communicate setting and interaction. In both, main characters have lots of dialogue. 
When I listen to the music and read the lyrics, I try to come up with movements that communicate the emotions and feelings in the story. I do the same when working on my novel. As I write different scenes, sometimes I find something not working. And just like watching the kids move around on stage, I seem to be able to tell if something doesn’t fit right and I’m open to changing it.
So how did choreographing lead me to writing a novel? When I was asked to do this three shows ago, I taught dance and choreographed children’s choirs in the past, but nothing of this magnitude. I had no idea if I could do something on such a large scale. Honestly, I was scared.
That musical was Little Mermaid, which consisted of 75 kids. I constructed something I was quite proud of. And the confidence that grew out of the entire experience was amazing. I stepped out beyond myself. It was so empowering. And that is what helped me cross over into the next challenge of my life – writing a novel. 
Up to that point I would read, and read, and read and when I finished a novel, I’d say to myself “I would love to write one like that.” Then I’d look at my life and think, how in the world would I fit that into my schedule? I had thought the same thing about choreographing. But after the show, I realized I had made the schedule work. Whatever obstacle my mind would make up, I pushed through. I had to. I didn’t have a choice because I had made a commitment. I somehow figured it out. And because I did, it helped me see that I can do anything I put my mind to.
The next year, I choreographed Beauty and the Beast. It was easier, even though I was still nervous. I trusted myself a little more. I’m sure that is what it feels like when you start working on a second novel. I’m not quite there yet.
So now I am working on my third show, believing in myself more than before. Sure there’s a part of me that is still scared, which keeps me on my toes (no dance pun intended!). But I’m making decisions faster and not doubting myself as much. Which I find has transferred over to my writing.
I love doing this even though it is more challenging to fit in writing time while I’m choreographing. But, instead of picking one over the other, I find that they complement each other. I can see my choreography become something tangible and it encourages me to keep writing. All the writing and edits are like rehearsals, fine-tuning the details. It keeps me motivated. 
So what’s the lesson in all this? Don’t let anything keep you from doing what you want to do. That first show ended in April 2013. By September that year I had joined OCCRWA. And I am so glad that I did. I have learned so much from all of you. It has been a wonderful journey so far, just like fun rehearsals before the main performance. Thank you for being such a great cast to work with.

If you are interested Friends Christian Middle School will be performing Aladdin, Jr. March 13 (7pm) and 14 (1 & 4pm) at Rose Drive Friends Church in Yorba Linda. Tickets are $7. Call 714-202-8410 for more information.

Denise Colby  writes uplifting, encouraging stories that cherish and warm the heart.  Her first historical novel features a young lady who has lost all hope, travels west to teach and finds love along the way.  Passionate about all types of stories – whether they are from songs, theatre, movies or novels – she loves sharing those passions with her husband and their three boys.

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