This week I had the fun of attending one of the early rehearsals of Porchlight Theatre Company’s production of Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses, for which I’m serving as historical production advisor. In the breaks in the rehearsal, I worked on my Vienna Waltz revisions. Watching the production begin to take shape in exciting ways reminded me of how much my writing process mirrors the rehearsal process for a play. Which perhaps isn’t surprising since I spent much of my high school and college years in the theater.

The Porchlight rehearsal began with presentations by designers of the set and costume designs. Before I start to write a scene, I need to visualize the setting and what the characters are wearing. I don’t have set and costume designers to work with, but I look at pictures, pour through fashion notes (often visiting Candice Hern’s wonderful website), jot down descriptive details, think about how I can work in all five senses. The smell of coffee and chocolate in a Viennese café, the clink of crystal and patter of kid slippers on a parquet floor at a ball, the enveloping damp of the London air, the sour taste of the harsh red wine in a tavern.

Actors and the director spend time talking through the back story of the characters, filling in details not supplied by the author. When did Valmont and Merteuil meet? How did Madame de Tourvel meet her husband? I do the same when I plot a book and create character profiles. But just as actors and directors sometimes stop later in the rehearsal process to talk through a particular bit of back story, I often realize there are more back story details I need to work out as I’m writing.

The rehearsal process usually begins with a read through. My first draft of a scene is often dialogue. Then I go back over it and “stage” the scene, layering in actions and descriptions and bits of inner monologue, having my characters interact with their world. Just as the Porchlight actors and directors were refining the blocking and bits of business in the rehearsal I attended.

I work through each scene several times. But when I have a draft of the whole book, I usually do two or three more drafts. With the whole book before me, I can see things (especially plot and character arcs) that aren’t apparent to me on the first draft. It’s similar to when a theater company begins to do run throughs of the entire play. New things become apparent, whether it’s the timing a set change or the emotional shifts of characters from scene to scene.

As I polish Vienna Waltz, it’s fun to think back to how the book has developed from the first scenes I wrote to now. Similarly, I look forward to watching Les Liaisons Dangereueses continue to take shape in the coming weeks.

The different ways different writers approach their work fascinates me. Writers, what’s your writing process like? Readers, does going “behind the scenes” and learning about the process of developing a book interest you? Any particular questions about the writing process? It’s one of my favorite topics of discussion!

I just posted a new letter from Raoul to Mélanie to the Fraser Correspondence.