Thursday, August 19, 2010

Writing like an Actor

I sat in on a workshop at the SDSU writer’s conference a few years back on improv. Let me tell you, once the instructor clarified it really WAS improvisation- that room cleared out like mad.

That is not surprising, but it was sad for those writer’s who fled. It was really a great workshop and made me think differently about how I write my characters and their reactions.

The instructor was using acting techniques to show writers how to think like an actor. Our characters are like actors, only they all have the same brain- ours. However, if they all sound and think like us they’ll fail to grab any reader’s attention for long.

So how do we deal with that? We act. Now some writers are probably more prone than others to act out their characters. I have found myself pantomiming actions some times while writing. Sometimes it helps me feel the scene, other times it just happens. Frowning, grimacing, waving ones arms about when there is no external stimuli is either the sign of a writer, or someone with a few psychological issues (or both- I know some of you were thinking it ;)). But sometimes we have to act out what goes on (physically or internally).

I’ve found I’ll use external stimuli as well to get me in a frame of mine- both for character development and what I think of as “book character development”.

Since I’ve been working on three very different series this year, I’m finding out that each story has its own personality, its own “character” if you will.

This means that my fast moving SF uses different word choices, different scene breaks, different writing music (movie trailers are the BEST if you have a fast action book) than the other two.

The fantasy-mystery book has a different sensibility completely. It’s a takeoff of a short story I did about ten years ago. Since that story was in first person, so is this book. The tone, feeling, words, and yes writing music are different. Everything is lighter, funnier, and mystery driven. It’s got drunken faeries and homicidal squirrels- nuff said.

The youngest- my steampunk- has driven me a different direction. I’m reading Victorian mysteries (ok – sort of- Elizabeth Peters actually), I’m using different music, I’m finding I turn to tea when I get stressed (ok, I have always been a serious tea drinker- but lately it’s been waaaay more noticeable. Direct correlation to how much time I’ve been spending with my steampunk book ;)).

So I do “act” my characters, but I also “act” my book. I’m not sure how much of this would have been so noticeable if I hadn’t taken on three projects in one year.
How about any of you? Do you act your book? Your characters?


  1. I sometimes move around like the character just so I can figure out a way to describe it!!! LOL

    Great blog Marie!

    Lisa :)

  2. I happen to like improv. I actually find it stimulating. But I must admit while writing characters, I sometimes get stuck on what I see in my head and not how they really are. It's hard to get out of the rut.

  3. Thanks for the comments Lisa and Darcy. Hmmm, maybe all writers need a mini (as in size ;)) acting trope for inside their desk?

    Yeah I really enjoyed the improv for writers workshop- just sad so few folks stayed for it :(