- The Beat on Ruby's Street
is a playwright, novelist, columnist and lyricist. As a former staff writer at Scholastic Choices magazine, Zark wrote extensively for middle school and junior high students. Her novel The Beat on Ruby’s Street was published by Dragon Moon Press in June, 2016. To more, please visit jennazark.com.
When I first started writing my middle-grade novel The Beat on Ruby’s Street, a friend who was an editor at Scholastic told me a curious thing. She said many editors didn’t consider published playwrights to know much of anything about how to write novels, so playwriting credits would do me no good in their eyes.
It happened out that I did have a published play when I began writing the novel. And… there were days when I thought to myself, “I can’t wait to get back to playwriting, when all I have to worry about is dialogue!” Describing moments in all their momentousness was, at the beginning especially, a whole new animal—and it wasn’t easy.
At the same time, I found being a dramatist armed me with a built-in sense of dramatic action, which is, at the very least, what I think you need when you’re writing a middle-grade novel. Carrying readers forward from chapter to chapter needs more than a meditative, ruminating prose. It needs movement, which is the core of dramatic work.
The other thing dramatists know how to do well is write dialogue that sounds like people really talk—which can be tough for some novelists, whether they write for adults, middle graders or teens. Unfortunately, I’ve seen dialogue in books at times that seems stilted and contrived.
Playwrights who get produced know without natural-sounding dialogue, your characters will be laughed off the stage. Playwrights also understand (or should) how to build characters from the inside out. Characters are, in fact, the center of any story, but especially of drama, which depend on the fullness of the people you meet onstage.
If creating characters and dialogue go hand in hand with playwriting, what more is needed for a novel? Knitting together moments, story, surroundings, interior monologues and action. Oh, right, isn’t that what playwrights do too? Yes, but what I found is that I needed to slllloooowww down the action at times to get to the moment, stretch it out in prose so the reader could savor it. I learned to be patient, not just with myself, but with future readers trying to enter the world I wanted to create.
In the end, I think novelists and playwrights are much, much closer than they are apart; and if someone says they believe you can’t be a good novelist if you think like a playwright, I’d tell them to stop—and think again.