I've recently finished watching the second season of Shakespeare Uncovered, a series of documentaries exploring some of Shakespeare's plays, largely from the perspective of the people who have played the parts. I'm now going back and watching the first season again. It's not just because I love Shakespeare. It's not even because the series is beautifully done.
It's because this series is one of the greatest teaching tools about how to write that I've come across in some time.
Understand, please, that I am usually not a visual person. I learn better by reading than by watching films. I don't even particular enjoy movies or TV that much. But Shakespeare Uncovered is an exception. By starting from an actor's perspective--a person who has lived a character and the story in a personal, intimate way--we get a personal, intimate look into Shakespeare's story-telling skills.
I think this is valuable, even if you don't enjoy Shakespeare. Even if he does not appeal to you personally, due to the nature of his stories or the age or language, you will benefit from this series, as a writer.
Each episode explores the nature of stories, the development of characters, in a uniquely inspiring and moving way. We explore the internal workings of characters as diverse as Macbeth and Bottom the Weaver, learning what makes them tick, and how a master writer uses their characters to tell a story that reveals something about each of us.
As one of the men who has played Macbeth, Antony Sher, says in the first episode of the first season, "Shakespeare's great gift as a writer is that he never holds people at arm's length. He never says, 'Look at this person. Isn't he disgraceful, or isn't he ridiculous?' Shakespeare always says, 'It's me. It's you. It's us.' He always does that. It is his great gift."
This is precisely what we need to do to draw an audience into our stories. And it's why, as somebody who attempts to tell stories, I find Shakespeare so inspiring.
Whether you are a Shakespeare fan or not, this series will help you learn how to do this. It shows how to develop characters and put them into settings that amplifies their personal issues.It shows how to use those characters to develop a plot that really means something and reveals something about the way we all tick. It shows how to use current cultural elements to amplify a story. It shows how to use the rhythm of language to create emotion, and how to magnify that emotion with action and movement.
If you have Comcast, season two is currently on On Demand. Maybe it's available from other providers as well. Check it out, and see if it is as great a writing lesson for you as it has been for me.