Drama Queen: Becoming a Novelist

Since I can remember, I’ve loved writing. I still have my Year 4 composition book and I was quite the short storyist (I also like to make up words). In my teens I wrote a gripping satirical piece on public toilets and started a novel (to date, still unfinished).

At university, while studying a BA in English and majoring in Literature and Theatre Arts, I wrote piercing exposes about sexism in classic novels and the sexualisation of men in Glam Rock – I know, also gripping stuff. I wrote angst-ridden monologues, which were somewhat sophomoric considering I was in my early twenties and no longer a sulking teen.

I kept a journal from age twelve, one of those small, but fat diaries with a gold lock that my eight year-old sister could easily pick. I upgraded to bigger and better journals, but stopped journalling about fifteen years ago when I realised I spent more time writing about my life than living it.

All of these writings and musings are where I cut my teeth as an author, but the one thing that has served me best as an author is Drama – my time studying performance and plays, my time on stage, and my time as a Drama teacher.

Drama taught me invaluable lessons I draw on every time I write.

Character motivations

Characters must have a motivation. It’s that simple. They must want something, even if they don’t (yet) know that they want it. Characters can also be their own antagonist – just think of how many people you know who self-sabotage. Any time my writing stalls, I ask myself, what does this character want and what will they do to get it?

Character arcs

Not only do characters need a motivation, they must move – and I don’t mean that they need to join a dance class or change their address. Characters – particularly the protagonist – must develop, grow, or change in some way. They must have an arc. They should be different at the end of the story from when the reader first meets them. It’s good for me as a writer to be able to articulate that continuum of growth, that arc.

Back stories

Acting taught me of the importance of back stories. Characters – again, particularly protagonists – need to be as fully fleshed out as possible. They should have histories and there should be reasons for their personality traits, their motivations, their flaws, their relationships. As a writer, I must create histories for my characters, so they ring true to readers.


In a play, there’s a great deal of attention to setting – how characters interact with it, how it’s referred to and how it is staged. On paper, a richly-developed setting can become almost a character in itself. And how characters engage with the setting can evoke a specific tone or mood. As I travel avidly, I tend to write about places I know well and aim to capture what it is like to be in those places.


I have received some terrific feedback on the realism of my dialogue, which I greatly appreciate because I tend to use a lot of it and I work hard to make it sound A) true to each character and B) natural and realistic.

Writing plays in the noughties helped me develop this skill. I was teaching at a girls’ school and was seeking out plays for student productions. There’s a dearth of well-written, easy-to-stage ensemble pieces which are appropriate for high school students – especially for an all-female cast. So, I wrote plays. (They have since been published on Drama Notebook in the US and have been performed by schools in Australia, the UK and the US.)

I also hone this skill every time I work on one of my novels. Once I finish a conversation, I read it aloud as the characters (with voices – I can’t help myself), and tweak the phrasing, words, tone and inflections. My aim is to make it seem like a real conversation that I happened to capture in print.


I follow a lot of authors on social media through Twitter, Facebook, blogs and websites, and I’ve been pleased to see more and more discussions about writing in scenes. Rather than focussing on chapters, the author focuses on a scene where something specific happens – just like in a play. A scene could comprise a whole chapter, or it might be part of one.

I realised recently that as a novelist I always write in scenes – again, perhaps a throw-back to writing plays. It is easier for me to approach the over-arching story in smaller, self-contained chunks. As a reader, I’ve seen a shift in writing towards this format. Likely you’ve seen this too – authors denote the end of a scene within a chapter with a double space or a physical page break that looks something like this:


Where I used to have to finish reading a whole chapter before putting a book down, I can now get to the end of a scene and feel like I have a natural place to pause.

A quick nod to grammar

I mentioned that I studied Literature as well as Theatre Arts and it was through my Lit classes that I began my love affair all things grammar. I have since taught English and worked as a professional editor. It means I can conduct decent and thorough editorial passes at my own writing before handing off to a(nother) pro (always get another pair of eyes on a manuscript).

And a quick nod to my contemporaries

A good writer reads. A good writer reads widely. A good writer reads voraciously.

Reading teaches you what to do and what not to do – how to evoke time, place, passion, fear, love, loss and the human condition – how to avoid over-using a word – how to structure a phrase, a sentence, a chapter, a thought – how to make your readers laugh aloud and weep onto the page – how to play with words and ignore the rules for effect.

I want to be a good writer – sorry, make that a great writer – so I read. Every day. Across genres. Indie authors, emerging authors, well established authors, and sometimes super famous authors.







Guest Blogger (My Awesome Mother): Changing the face of teaching in the 70s and 80s

My sister and I grew up with young parents. Mum and Dad were 21 when I was born and 25 when my sister came along. They were both primary school teachers. 

We grew up in the 70s, surrounded by 20-somethings – our parents and a slew of aunties and uncles – actual and honorary. 

When I was in Year 2, I changed schools so I could attend the school where my mother taught. I gained more aunties, friends of my mother, women who I looked up to, women who were kind to me and let me be my precocious self.

They – and my mother –  taught me that working in a professional role was normal for a woman. I had no idea then the type of blatant sexism they faced. Embarrassingly, I had no real idea what they faced until recently when my mum sent my sister and me an email.

This is what she wrote about her early years in the teaching profession:

I know you love stories about the women who work hard to make equality a reality. As you probably know, when your dad and I started our careers, women earned less, even though we were both teachers and had started working at the same time. The gap was significant – about $5000 per year.

Female teachers had to wear dresses, or skirts and high heels. No pants. Women were not entitled to maternity leave. Instead, we could resign and then re-apply for our jobs when we wanted to come back to work. I was fortunate enough to have 3 months at home with both of you before I had to go back to work. In staff rooms, we had assigned seats. There was an obvious and patriarchal hierarchy and at my first school. The men sat together and the women sat together.

Early on, I became a union member to help expedite a shift to equality.

What I did:

1) I worked diligently at my first school to ensure the female deputy principal allowed women to wear pant suits, especially with those who taught smaller children, and needed to sit on the floor at times.

Eventually, this policy passed and we could wear pant suits – on the proviso we did not just wear slacks and a top. When other schools found out, women there were allowed to wear pant suits a those schools as well. I suppose those women spoke up about the practically of it, like I did.

2) In the staff room, I refused to sit in ‘my spot’. I kept sitting in different chairs, because I knew that women should be able to talk to whoever they wanted, including the male staff members. Eventually, everyone moved about daily, and ignored the assigned seats policy. It was much more pleasant – we were all teachers, after all.

3) At another school, I worked hard to convince the principal that I could teach Science to all the senior primary students (Year 4, 5, and 6). At that time, this was considered a man’s job. I was successful; I got to teach Science.

4) As a Union Rep, I lobbied for better pay, better conditions, and more opportunities for women. I marched and I went on strike, along with many of the men and women I worked with. We lost pay, but we didn’t care. Our cause was too important.

5) At a rural school, only boys were allowed to wear pants, while girls had to wear skirts, even during the cold weather of winter. After many meetings with the administration and with the Parents and Citizens’ Committee (the P&C), we had a win and girls could also wear pants to school.

6) I initiated non-gender-biased clubs at every school I worked at. If girls wanted to learn about science, or if boys wanted to learn to sew, great. Any interested student was welcome and encouraged to develop their skills and interests.

7) At a school I taught at in Queensland, some sports were girls only or boys only. I fought to change that by working closely with the administration and the P&C.

8) As I taught in a lot of rural schools, there was often the issue of not having enough of one gender to fill a sports team. So, I introduced mixed teams at these schools. Then other schools started to do this. I was criticised, but again I didn’t care. Students were able to compete in sports that with other schools – that was what mattered.

9)  For too many years, women were not considered competent or skilled enough to teach upper grades. I rejected this idea, and was fortunate to have support from many of my principals. I would ask for an upper grade, so I could prove that women could competently teach those grades.

I worked very hard to get equal pay equal and equal opportunities for women over the years.  It wasn’t just me, but I was there, putting up my hand and speaking up. I was called names, told off, and ‘put in my place’. But that didn’t matter.  I believe everyone deserves the chance to be equal in all things.

My conquests were small and some would say insignificant, but change happens when individuals – many individuals – stand up. The voice of one becomes the voice of many.

Thank you, mum, for leading the way, for taking a stand and surrounding us with wonderful female role models.

Thank you also to our dad, who is one of the most fervent feminists I know and who was an outstanding teacher. And thank you to our step-mum, who has only just retired after nearly 40 years as a teacher, and has also been a wonderful professional role model.

Side note: I taught for 14 years before changing professional direction in 2009. My sister is still a teacher – and so is her husband. #familyprofession