Guest Post by Phil Brucato: Green Room Writing

Today I’m happy to turn my blog over to acclaimed author Phil Brucato. Phil is a professional author with years of experience under his belt. Although he shares a background with me in the hobby games industry, Phil has branched out and has been published alongside many well-known authors. This article talks about writing from an unusual, yet necessary, perspective.

Not everything in a story happens on the page. When an author writes material that occurs “offstage,” that so-called “green room writing” may inform the events that the audience sees. Giving foundations for the characters, their motivations, personalities and activities, green room writing may well feel like wasted effort. Trust me, though – it’s really not.

I coined the term green room writing when describing the many false starts I had with my short story “Ravenous.” An intense urban faerie tale inspired by my experiences in a heavy metal group, “Ravenous” featured the implosion of the narrator’s band in mid-gig. The story’s first few drafts began in the “green room” – the often-cramped backstage space where performers wait before a show. My original versions of the tale started with the bandmates sniping at one another while a warm-up group performs out front. By the time the first show ends, all five members of the narrator’s group are ready to blow… and soon do.

It didn’t work for me, though. The characters seemed realistic, the dialog zinged, the tension radiated in all directions… and yet, it didn’t work. I pounded through two or three drafts of the opening like this, wondering why my inner critic kept pouting at it.

Then it hit me: The action didn’t begin in the green room. It started as the band stepped onstage – tense, pissed off, surging with adrenaline and facing a drunk, voracious crowd.

“Ravenous” doesn’t kick in when the music does – that option seems too abrupt, and doesn’t give the reader time to care about the characters. (I know; I wrote that version, too.) The tale starts just before the lights go up, with five fiercely terrified young people ready to pounce and be pounced on in return. “I’ve got that just-before-the-cages-open feeling in my chest,” says our narrator, Nikita. The bomb’s just about to explode, and in the next few paragraphs, it does.

By the time I wrote the band’s detonation, I knew every character on stage. Each one spoke with a distinctive voice; each had a unique personality. I knew how the bandmates looked, what they wanted, why they blew up in the ways they did. That scene essentially wrote itself. From first draft to final, I changed hardly a word of it.

I was able to write that scene the way I did because of the various passes I’d run through in that green room. Although they didn’t appear in the final story – nor should they have appeared – those literally offstage brainstorming sessions informed all that followed afterward.

Green room writing can feel frustrating. Personally, I get annoyed when my Muse dictates something that probably won’t make it to the final draft. I often feel like I’m wasting my time, and that goes double if I actually like what I’ve written and know at the time that no one but me (and possibly my editorial first-readers) will see it. That said, I realize that green room writing is helpful… even, sometimes, essential to a good story.

Sure, I’ve written many tales that leapt full-force from my imagination, with engaging characters and fascinating action intact. It CAN happen that way… but it doesn’t always. More often than not, especially with long or complicated storylines, I need to “waste” time and words figuring out what happens in the green room. As frustrating as it might be to throw scenes out or re-write that damned first hook yet AGAIN (yes, Holy Creatures To and Fro, I’m looking at you!), those secret stories we tell in the green room can make the ones seen in the spotlights sing.

About Phil Brucato

A professional author for 20 years, “Satyr” is best-known as Phil Brucato, the driving force behind the award-winning RPGs Mage: The Ascension, Mage: The Sorcerers Crusade and Deliria: Faerie Tales for a New Millennium. Beyond his RPG work, though, he’s also published…

  • The anthology RAVENS IN THE LIBRARY, a benefit collection featuring Holly Black, Charles de Lint, Neil Gaiman, Laurell K. Hamilton, Amy Brown, Carrie Vaughn, Terri Windling, Midori Snyder and many others. For details, see http://www.sjtucker.com/ravens.html.
  • Short fiction (the magazines Weird Tales, newWitch, The Tomb, Cyber Age Adventures and The Morning Star, plus over half-a-dozen anthologies from Daw, Masquerade, Harper Prism, White Wolf and other publishers).
  • Essays, columns and interviews (newWitch Magazine, Realms of Fantasy Magazine, Disinformation Press, beat-a-go-go.com, Fantagraphic Press, Citadel Press and Knights of the Dinner Table, plus several local newspapers and weekly magazines).
  • Comics (White Wolf Publishing, Infobia Magazine) and a forthcoming webcomic called STRING THEORY.
  • Novels (the Ascension Warrior trilogy)
  • …and a variety of pending-publication projects.

    Not everything in a story happens on the page. When an author writes material that occurs “offstage,” that so-called “green room writing” may inform the events that the audience sees. Giving foundations for the characters, their motivations, personalities and activities, green room writing may well feel like wasted effort. Trust me, though – it’s really not.

    I coined the term green room writing when describing the many false starts I had with my short story “Ravenous.” An intense urban faerie tale inspired by my experiences in a heavy metal group, “Ravenous” featured the implosion of the narrator’s band in mid-gig. The story’s first few drafts began in the “green room” – the often-cramped backstage space where performers wait before a show. My original versions of the tale started with the bandmates sniping at one another while a warm-up group performs out front. By the time the first show ends, all five members of the narrator’s group are ready to blow… and soon do.

    It didn’t work for me, though. The characters seemed realistic, the dialog zinged, the tension radiated in all directions… and yet, it didn’t work. I pounded through two or three drafts of the opening like this, wondering why my inner critic kept pouting at it.

    Then it hit me: The action didn’t begin in the green room. It started as the band stepped onstage – tense, pissed off, surging with adrenaline and facing a drunk, voracious crowd.

    “Ravenous” doesn’t kick in when the music does – that option seems too abrupt, and doesn’t give the reader time to care about the characters. (I know; I wrote that version, too.) The tale starts just before the lights go up, with five fiercely terrified young people ready to pounce and be pounced on in return. “I’ve got that just-before-the-cages-open feeling in my chest,” says our narrator, Nikita. The bomb’s just about to explode, and in the next few paragraphs, it does.

    By the time I wrote the band’s detonation, I knew every character on stage. Each one spoke with a distinctive voice; each had a unique personality. I knew how the bandmates looked, what they wanted, why they blew up in the ways they did. That scene essentially wrote itself. From first draft to final, I changed hardly a word of it.

    I was able to write that scene the way I did because of the various passes I’d run through in that green room. Although they didn’t appear in the final story – nor should they have appeared – those literally offstage brainstorming sessions informed all that followed afterward.

    Green room writing can feel frustrating. Personally, I get annoyed when my Muse dictates something that probably won’t make it to the final draft. I often feel like I’m wasting my time, and that goes double if I actually like what I’ve written and know at the time that no one but me (and possibly my editorial first-readers) will see it. That said, I realize that green room writing is helpful… even, sometimes, essential to a good story.

    Sure, I’ve written many tales that leapt full-force from my imagination, with engaging characters and fascinating action intact. It CAN happen that way… but it doesn’t always. More often than not, especially with long or complicated storylines, I need to “waste” time and words figuring out what happens in the green room. As frustrating as it might be to throw scenes out or re-write that damned first hook yet AGAIN (yes, Holy Creatures To and Fro, I’m looking at you!), those secret stories we tell in the green room can make the ones seen in the spotlights sing.

    This article was written by Phil Brucato and has been republished with his permission. For more about this acclaimed author, read his full bio and other shenanigans on Phil Brucato’s LiveJournal.



    Monica Valentinelli is a writer, editor, and game developer. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

    In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Firefly, Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

    Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore and game store near you.

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