Linda G. Hill

Life in progress

Method Writing

46 Comments

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.

 

Author: LindaGHill

There's a writer in here, clawing her way out.

46 thoughts on “Method Writing

  1. Heh, I wrote a post a while back on this same concept (using the same term, Method Writing). I get myself into trouble sometimes trying to live within the characters — making their faces in public, or worse, absorbing their emotional turmoil and having to remind myself that it isn’t my own.

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    • OH the moods – YES! I get so grumpy sometimes when things aren’t going the way my characters want them to in their story. I feel so sorry for my family sometimes. hehe
      Thanks for the comments and the follow 🙂

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  2. I used to try to force my characters to do what I thought they should. And, guess what? The writing FELT forced.

    Now, I create a sketchy framework that involves goal, motivation, and conflict, and then I let my characters go. When I can see the scene unfolding, I know I’m on the right track. When I feel it unfolding, and know that’s how it had to happen, I’ve got it.

    Many of my best scenes come to me in the shower or while I’m dreaming. I try to go to bed with story ideas in mind- that helps.

    Coincidentally, while I was in the shower last night, I had an idea for a blog post that explored how my passion for writing Vulcan characters with whom I don’t even share a planet of origin has made me a better writer. I sometimes replay a scene dozens of times (especially with T’Pol, from Enterprise, as her body language and intonations change dramatically over the course of the series as her character goes through some major changes). Vulcan body language is generally much more subtle than human, so being aware of the tiny shifts makes reading humans easier, too!

    This is a lovely and thought-provoking post.

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    • Thanks very much. 🙂 I get SO many ideas when I’m in the shower, or while I’m walking. Both activities must bring extra oxygen to the brain or something.
      Isn’t it the greatest thing when your characters guide your story though? Sometimes I have a hard time keeping up with them!
      Thanks so much for sharing your process. It’s nice to hear how other writers write. 🙂

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      • For me, ideas in the shower seem related to the rhythm of ht water on my head, immersing me. While walking, they tend to be related to the landscape or ativities going on around me.

        Hometending also does it, maybe because of the simple, repetitive nurturing nature of it.

        I agree. I love learning how others do this writing thing! =)

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        • I’ve never really considered the rhythm of the water in the shower, as you put it. I’ll have to pay more attention. While I’m walking though, I just block everything out. I realized yesterday in fact that I stepped off the curb in front of a car that was approaching a stop sign, without making sure the driver saw me. As drivers we often forget to look for pedestrians. I’ve almost hit one myself…

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  3. I recently blogged about my experiences with this; https://dominikalein.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/blog-0006-unlocking-characters/

    I don’t call it method acting, and it isn’t exactly the same, but it’s related. Instead of acting in the stead of the character, I prefer to take on a Meta-stance or God-like Observation over the Character. When I’m trying to come to a full comprehension of a character, I find it easier to write 1st person, their thoughts, and background if I imagine myself in a more 1st person perception – like you mention, would be Method Acting if I wanted to act out any of the visualizations. But if I want to write 3rd person, have an external narrator, and detail-work, I find it better to imagine myself in a 3rd person perception.
    So, long story short, I agree. Yes, I imagine scenes before/after/during I’m writing them. Yes, if I can’t put myself in my character’s shoes, I worry that something is off and usually work on something else that I feel more aligned with.
    Good post 🙂

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    • Thanks, Dominika 🙂 Your process of writing in first and third person make a lot of sense to me – I often do first person–many times in the form of a journal–when I write character sketches. These never show up in my finished work, but I learn a lot from them.
      Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Great article Linda. I never equated method acting with method writing. Maybe it does take being an empathetic person which I am and a great observer of people, which sounds like we both are. I am a nonfiction writer and what I write is me in first person sharing life stories, so I would have to say I write in my own shoes. 🙂

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  5. I’m completely incapable of actual empathy. I pretend I am them, but then turn them into me haha.

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  6. While I’ve heard of method acting, I never thought to apply those principles to writing — brilliant. I’ll have to try this!

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  7. I am nowhere near as inventive. I’m writing as the characters develop in my head. In fact I seldom know what they will be like when I start. They grow as the story does.

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    • Mine too, to a large degree. I just wrote a new character into my novel the other day in fact and I was amazed by him. With the first thing out of his mouth I discovered he sounded like a television announcer when he talked, and it shaped his entire character. Once I do the background work on him, I’ll get to know what makes him sound so fake and go from there. I guess that’s the difference between us. I won’t be able to get him fully into the story until I fully know him.
      Thanks very much for sharing. 🙂

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  8. Reblogged this on Genevieve LaBlanc | A Window to My Imagination and commented:
    Good advice.

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  9. I do this all the time. Conversations of my characters are always running through my head, as I picture the way they say things, or the things they would do. Sometimes I even say things aloud just to see how it would sound coming from their lips. That kind of makes me sound weird, but, hey, it seems we’re all writers here.

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    • Not weird at all. It seems we’re in good company. 😀
      When I’m writing I find myself constantly distracted by the conversations going on in my head, much to the annoyance of my family. 😛 But I think it’s that absorption which makes it all come together. We HAVE to exist in their world, to bring them to life.
      Thanks so much for sharing! 🙂

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  10. Reblogged this on Jeanne Owens, author and commented:
    An interesting way to write characters

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  11. I’ve never tried method acting or anything like that for use with writing. I just may consider it. Usually, scenes just play out in my mind like a movie and I write what I see. I’m going to reblog this if you don’t mind, for future reference and to share.

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  12. I am a method based actor with my primary training in sense memory. This is a very intriguing post to me. All characters have that inner voice, I find when Im developing a character I too act out how they would respond to certain stimuli. Great post I enjoyed it.

    Erik
    http://erikconover.com/

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  13. My scenes and dialogue play out naturally in my mind. I’m really more of a transcriptionist than a method writer. The characters do their thing and I write what happens, then revise it later. This much conscious effort would destroy my story.

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    • That’s really a great way to put it. I do feel as though I’m simply transcribing the story that my characters play out. But I need the conscious effort first…
      I’ve always found it fascinating how differently we all go through the process that ends the same – with a story.
      Thanks very much for sharing your method, Rose. 🙂

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  14. Reblogged this on Burning the Root and commented:
    Excellent advice for fleshing out characters and dialogue.

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  15. I act out whole scenes sometimes ’til I get the characters’ voices and actions the way I envisioned them. I especially enjoy doing this with my antagonists.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Reblogged this on Insomnia, Nightmares and General Madness and commented:
    Also, hijacking this as a repost; I like things about better ways to write characters – and the psychoses that make us writers tick – so spreading the love pleases me.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Some people think I’m nuts, but there are days where I will sit in the bathroom and “act out” dialogue heavy scenes for my characters. Including at least some of the physical actions, altering my voice/expressions/accent for different characters, sometimes even wardrobe. I will do this until it “sounds right,” then go back and write/rewrite the scene. If I didn’t have a healthy amount of empathy and insight into my characters – even the villains or otherwise “dislikeable” ones – I doubt this would work for me… but it does.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very cool. I don’t do accents but I am going to spend three nights in the city where my novel takes place so I can walk, sleep and eat in the same places my characters do. 🙂
      I think the villains are the most interesting to get into the characters of.

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      • I tend to agree; villains can be far more fun, sometimes. I wish I could take a few days to visit my character’s locales, but Palestine and Baton Rouge just aren’t in the budget right now. :/

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