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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Get Into Character

"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

 That statement isn’t any less true in writing. We put a bit of ourselves in every character, every situation, but sometimes we need more. This is where theatric flare comes in. I could only hope that there aren’t any witnesses and if so, they don’t judge.
As many authors do from time to time, I have difficulties writing scenes. I may know the setup of what would happen, the cause and effect, but wording it seems impossible. Instead of getting frustrated, throwing a temper tantrum, and chewing on furniture, I try another approach.

I do this sometimes when I can’t see the details, especially fight/action scenes. Find an open, quiet space and place yourself into the story. Perform a one-man show with all your characters if need be.

This is easier for those who have taken theater. I took drama club in high school and the most common term heard from my director was “Find your forth wall and get into character.” It’s the internalization and projection of motives in every action …more or less.

The beauty of this is you don’t have to be a theater major to apply the practice. It’s simple to slip into a particular character, because you created them, you know their background and the drive for everything they do.

So, go into a quiet area and act out a scene, delve into the emotion of the character and see what you find. Bring a notepad with you so you can jot down movements. Does the character walk into the kitchen? What does he/she do there? What’s in the cabinets? What color are the walls? Does he/she drink milk out of the carton, or drink all but the last swig of orange juice then put it back in the refrigerator? Is any of the food sour?

These are details that can enrich your story by acting into the experience instead of just sitting behind a desk thinking about it. Not only that, you can play around with dialogue and incorporate it with action.

There are a number of ways to do this. If you’re neurotic like me, you can act scenes out in the dark. If you don’t want to break away from your character until the scene is done, you can record yourself and take notes later. If you need outside input, get someone close to you to play a character’s role.

Much like artists use models to draw still life, grab someone to pose for your work. Sure, artists have an idea of what the human form or a bowl of fruit looks like, but the measurements, reflection of light, and composition would not be as accurate.

Give a friend sample chapters to read, a brief character bio, and motivation fueling the scene and just let them ad lib. You’d be surprised what facial expressions, postures, tones and moods that emerge just by watching someone else, details that, again, you wouldn’t be able to envision sitting behind a desk. Make sure it’s someone who understands your writing struggle and sympathizes with psychosis, because he or she will be at your mercy.

This is by no means a method for everyone, but I do suggest you try it at least once. It can help in many ways, such as action, gestures, and dialogue. It’s not meant for the overall plot of the story, but one scene at a time and all of its detail.

Sure, you may look skitzo talking to yourself in an empty room, no one will truly understand why you’re crying or rolling around on the floor pretending to shoot at bank robbers, but that’s okay. You’re a writer; being crazy and misunderstood is part of the job description.

6 comments:

  1. I thought I was alone in this and am happy to know that I'm not. Whenever I have trouble with a scene especially dialogue I put myself in the characters shoes and pretend to be a part of the situation. The dialogue usually comes to me and next thing I know I'm being two or more characters having a conversation back and forth. I think it makes the dialogue more natural. My only problem is I usually do it in the shower so my boyfriend doesn't hear me and think I'm crazy and remembering what I just said can become a problem. Too bad they don't make waterproof paper.

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  2. Theresa, why don't you include him in the roleplaying? tee hee. It would be helpful in characterization, especially if the character is a guy. Note his gestures and speech. you may have to act out scenes a few times to remember it and write it down. or just video it...though i'm not that brave. :P

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  3. really great and interesting post. getting into character is one of the most important things, IMO a writer can do. It can also be hard. It's one of teh reasons I have to write EVERY day when I'm working on a story. Easy to fall out of "character" otherwise.:)

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  4. Great post! I tend to do this mostly in my head, but I do find myself staring at the screen, making all the characters' facial expressions so I can describe them and talking in funny accents so I can get the speech patterns right.

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  5. Hmm, I don't do this during certain times when I'm having trouble. I do this All. The. Time. :) This is my normal method for writing scenes, getting into the emotions, character movement, etc.

    So, um, how abnormal does that make me? :)

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  6. I do this when I'm having problems with a scene or a character. I close the door & start talking and gesturing and all kinds of crazy stuff. I'm just thankful for locks,(enough people think I have a mental problem without seeing me talking to the imaginary people in my head). Acting is incredibly helpful.

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