All the World’s a Stage

With only a week to go before my playwriting workshop, I thought I’d share a few thoughts about writing for theatre. Playwriting is a transferrable skill that has served my career well as I jumped from stage to radio to television to fiction.

In crafting a play, I learned the importance of developing characters through actions rather than through exposition. The immediacy of theatre forced me always to look for conflict in a story. Finally, I realized dialogue is a wonderful tool to reveal character, advance plot, and create pace.

When I began as a writer, I thought dialogue was merely the act of characters talking about themselves and what happened in the story.

Dialogue can do more. Dialogue can be a lie that hides our true feelings. Imagine those awkward situations when you’re talking to a boss and you pretend to support her new management ideas or when you’re on a blind date and you awkwardly laugh at your companion’s lame joke. The subtext is where the real drama happens and can inject drama into an apparent mundane conversation about fishing.

When I see blocks of text jammed into the mouth of a character in a novel, I must admit I dread the idea of meeting the author because I fear I’ll be sitting quietly while they drone on about themselves. In real life, conversations require two people to participate. It’s a dance where everyone tries to lead and people do step on toes. I love when dialogue is jagged and invites us to engage. I feel like I can learn more about characters in how they respond to each other. What they don’t say is just as important as what they do say.

Just listen to a conversation on a bus and you’ll see how rich and alive dialogue can be. I think any writer who wants to craft authentic dialogue only needs to listen to the conversations that unfold around her. We can learn about the relationship between two speakers based on whether they speak formally or casually. We might know the level of person’s education from their vocabulary choices. We might even guess their attitude about the topic based on whether or not they gush in long speeches or if they clip their sentences. All we need to do is listen.

If you’re curious about how to write good dialogue, I recommend the best exercise is to eavesdrop on conversations. You’ll be amazed at how much you can pick up. Once you get a sense of voice, remember that good dialogue is active. We often say things because we have an agenda. Think about your character’s objective when you make them speak. What do they want from the listener? How are they going to convince the other person to give them what they want? And how obvious are they going to be about what they want?

If you want more playwriting tips, please register for my bootcamp on Saturday, Feb. 6.

The Writer in Residence is open for business

Thank you to everyone who made their way out on a chilly Saturday afternoon to help me kick off my year as regional writer in residence. I’m thrilled to have met so many writers, and I look forward to helping as many people as I can.

To be honest, I’m still trying to figure out how to use this blog. Part of me wants to use it to promote events. Another part wants to incorporate writing advice. The Luddite in me fears I may break the Internet if I post.

I’ll try my best to figure out how to best use this blog function. Right now, I’m going to use it to pass on information about how to get a hold of me and what you can expect.

I’m happy to meet and talk to you about the business and craft of writing. I’m also happy to review your manuscript submissions and give feedback. Before you send me your 500-page manuscript, I have to be fair to everyone. I’m limiting the submissions to 5 – 10 pages (12 point font, double-spaced and single-sided). Please send me an email about meeting, and I can let you know when I’m available. Other clients have already been in touch and my schedule is starting to fill up.

In January, I’m setting my hours as follows:

Tuesdays 6:00 – 9:00 pm

Wednesdays 6:00 – 9:00 pm (except Jan. 20)

Fridays 6:00 – 9:00 pm

Saturdays Noon – 5:00 pm

Shoot me an email at to set up a meeting. I’m looking forward to meeting you all.


Greetings from Marty Chan

Happy New Year!

I’m excited to serve as the regional writer in residence. My home base will be the Strathcona County Library until the end of April, and I can’t wait to meet the writers in this community. Already, I’ve met the amazing staff at the library, and I’ve learned where they’ve stashed all the snacks. Trust me; writers need snacks. Always.

Writers also need a community. We spend most of our writing hours holed up in a basement office or hidden in the quiet corner of a coffee shop or library. Sometimes, we feel as if our only companions are the cats that splay across our keyboards when we’re trying to work. When we go out, we can’t talk to Muggles about our works in progress, because we fear our co-workers will scurry away at the mere mention of “writer’s block.” It’s a relief when we stumble across another member of our tribe–someone who understands character arcs, plot holes, weak climaxes, and Oxford commas.

I invite you to let your cats sleep on your keyboards for one afternoon. Join me on Saturday, January 16 for my official kickoff. Not only will you hear about the exciting programs I have planned, but you’ll also learn about resources that can help writers. I’ve invited people from the Writers Foundation of Strathcona County, the Canadian Authors Association, and the Writers Guild of Alberta to talk about what they can do to help writers.

If that isn’t enough, I’ve added one more guest to the roster. Paul Matwychuk of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts will talk about grants that can give writers the time they need to work on their manuscripts. The timing is perfect because the next AFA deadline is February 1.

The Meet & Greet & Book Swap promises to be a fun afternoon filled with great information for writers of all levels and genres. Bring a book to swap so you can share your love of reading and kickstart a conversation with a fellow writer. Make 2016 be the year you take the first step to fulfilling your dream of becoming a full-time writer. But leave your cat at home.