Writing characters who are vastly different to ourselves is something many of us do, or at least strive to do. It’s not easy to extract one’s personality completely from the page – we can only write what we know, after all. Yes, imagination is a far-reaching avenue, but how do we make it stretch as far as it can possibly go?
I have a theory that is probably not all that unique, but I’d like to share it anyway.
When I was in high school drama class, I learned about something called the Stanislavski Method, or, Method Acting. For a full description of what it is and how it came about click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanislavski%27s_system In my own words I can tell you it’s a method of acting where the actor studies the motivations of the character and makes use of empathetic observations in order to “become” the character. Its a way of bringing about realism and believability.
This is the method I have striven to bring to my writing. To “become” the character I’m writing makes my dialogue and my character’s actions come to life. To do so I need to be able to concentrate and to empathize with what they are experiencing. I often try on their expressions and imagine, as though I’m watching them on a screen, moving in the ways that their emotions dictate. There are times, therefore, when I must go through a scene twice or more times in order to get the nuances just right from each perspective, but by doing so my scenes are much more lifelike and full of what makes my readers able to envision them.
I believe empathy is something that is essential to a writer. It’s why we people-watch; to gain insight on how people emote, their body language and what causes it. Without empathy, we can only write characters who are cardboard cut-outs of stereotypes.
I realise this is hardly a groundbreaking idea, but the Stanislavski Method of Acting is certainly one to pay attention to for a writer. The more we know our characters and what makes them tick, the more our readers are able to sympathize with their plights. We want our readers to love them or hate them. For this to happen our characters must display passion, and for them to display passion we as the writers must feel it first.
Do you ever imagine yourself watching your scene play out before you? Are you able to put yourself in your character’s shoes? I’m very interested to hear what other writer’s methods are.