Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

storm moving across a field
March 30, 2012

Writers, Act Now!

Welcome to Last Fridays with Naked Editor Tiffany Lawson Inman on Writers In The Storm!

     Right now my physical self is driving up a Colorado mountain to Margie Lawson’s 5-day Immersion Master Class to be her co-instructor doing some micro and content editing, step-by-step editing fight/action scenes, and not sleep-at-all.  This ain’t no retreat!

I’ll be sneaking away from these amazingly hard working writers to chat with YOU throughout the weekend.  And as always – if you comment – your name is in the hat to win one of my writing courses. Woot!

I come on to a writing blog as an Editor/Writer/Actor and have a strong compulsion to jabber on about these 5 elements of fiction:

  • Motivation and reactions
  • What your character isn’t showing and should be showing
  • Power within and under dialogue
  • Choreography showing more than just the moves
  • Emotions

     Why those 5? 

Because you could have the BEST internalizations, the BEST twisting plot, the BEST use of voice in your manuscript, but if you don’t have genuine tangible characters . . . your reader won’t be invested in the emotional story.

And they won’t care.

While I edit, I see it over and over again. Publishable plot. Publishable voice. Mediocre characters. There are many reasons a manuscript gets tossed out of an agents pile. This one is a biggy.

How do I know if the way I write my characters is good enough? What does good character writing look like, anyway?

Have you ever emoted with a character you were watching at the movies?  Audience members usually say they were caught up in the moment.  While watching the film, they were physically moved to tears, anger, or happiness.  These are usually the movies that rack up multiple best actor nominations during award season.

I ask you, why?

      Is it the setting? Costumes? Dialogue?

No. No. And, no.

The award winning element in these movies is character and the character’s ability to weld genuine emotion. Hmmm…instead of the Rita or Golden Heart Award where we honor the writer, what if there was an Oscar or Golden Globe Award for the characters in our literature? 

Would your characters win? Would they even be nominated?

      How do you write characters that are Oscar worthy?  It’s not like we can pluck them out of our manuscripts and scoot them off to acting camp. 

*clever grin*

Since you are the writer behind the character, this character has come from you. It is a part of you. No matter if it is a crazy-hopped-up killer or a 13 year old soccer star in the dregs of puppy love – it’s your writer DNA in that character. Right?  Sooo… LET’S TEACH YOU HOW TO ACT!

*crickets chirping…*

I know I know - you all are crouched over your computers in your pjs and are—

Quite comfortable thank-you-very-much! 

Well, I’m here to bulldoze the pj-comfort-zone and tell you that you need to get up. Out of the chair/couch/hammock or whatever and use your body+mind combo to create these red-carpet-characters.


By learning how to tap into how the character thinks, breathes, cries, walks, talks, runs, smiles, reacts to different stimuli, etc.

      Yes, but…HOW?

By using the tool the actors use.

      What? There is a tool?

I’m not asking you to take a dialect and accent course or strap on any ballet shoes.  I’m asking for writers to open themselves up enough to reach in and use your body+brain in a way that you never have before.

The tool is you.

The technique to use the tool is Method Acting.

I can’t think of one Oscar winner, in the 84 years of awards, that hasn’t had Method Acting as part of their training.   Method Acting is the base on which actors build their characters.  Writers build characters too, so why not borrow these techniques from our sister art?

Pre-method acting concentrated on building on to the actor with stress on external skills like dance, dialects, etc – thinking that if the actor looks like a duck and walks like a duck – he must be a duck. The difference in Method Acting: allows the actor to dig deep into the sensory, psychological, and emotional WHY behind the walk and the talk and therefore show the reality of this character, inside and out.

14 Method Blocks are: Relaxation, Sense Memory, Concentration, The Magic If, Objects, Substitution, Animal Exercise, Song and Dance, Private Moment, Speaking Out, Moment-to-Moment, Justification, Affective Memory, and Given Circumstances.

Sadly, you can’t post this list on the side of the computer (like all of my other awesome editing/writing lists) and hope to know what it all means without an acting class or acting for writers class.

      Ok, so how does it work?

There are mental and physical exercises that coincide with each of the 14 Method Blocks to help the actor recreate moments from their own lives, recreating emotions and reactions bringing memories to life within their role.

      But I’ve never been an Olympic athlete in danger of losing her dreams or a sad 46 year old detective still living with his parents.  How will MY memories help me write characters like these?

Memories are padded with emotion.  It’s what solidifies them in our mind. These emotions are found in our everyday moments and our high crisis moments, each creating a memory. The Method teaches how to reach in and grab the emotion to be turned into body language, vocal cues, reactions, motivations, relationship bridges, etc.  I teach writers how to transfer The Method found emotions into each facet of character.

Here is a thumbnail introduction to one of my favorite Method Blocks I teach and I use as an editor:

Justification.  It is reminiscent of the stereotypical director asking, “What’s your motivation?”   Those who know me will giggle here because Justification is VERY closely related to Cause/Effect (also called: Stimulus/Response or Motivation/Reaction.)

How does this relate to writing?

One of the first things I do when I edit, is look at Motivation and Reaction. During the Method acting exercise the actor will be running a scene (acting in a scene) and at every turn, every arm gesture, every vocal inflection, every facial movement -- the director can stop time and ask “why?” The actor must justify his/her choices for that moment.

As an editor, I go a few steps beyond asking, “What is your motivation?” or “WHY?”

Questions for a writer:

  • WHY did that happen?
  • Why did that happen at that time in the line/scene/chapter/plot?
  • Why did the character tell it and not show it?
  • Why did the character show it in that way?
  • Why did the writer show it in that order?
  • Where is the reaction?
  • What was the motivation?
  • Is that the best representation of your character?
  • What does that reaction show about your character?
  • Does this make sense? Or was it a mental speed bump?

What I’m really asking for is, Deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep JUSTIFICATION.

How does this help an actor or writer? It seems tedious.

It is. Going through your manuscript line by line making sure every word makes sense with order AND placement AND motivation AND reaction is very tedious.  And well worth it.  Justification is linked to EVERYTHING that happens in your novel.  Characterization, Storyline, Choreography, Pacing…I could go on, but, I think you get my point.

What if Meryl Streep rushed through every dialogue line without facial reactions? What if her reactions ran together without a clear motivation?  In The Devil Wears Prada, can you imagine if she slouched or cracked her knuckles?!  It wouldn’t make sense, right?! And in any movie she has been in - what if each of her emotional breakdowns was choppy, missing visceral, missing physicality, missing interactions with environment, missing the other character’s reactions—

      WOW. SO MUCH to think about.

This is the gravy for your taters and turkey.  For some, this is what makes the meal!

Get ready - I’m about ready to ruin Christmas…

      Using Justification on your own is maybe 25-30 percent affective.  You need a director…I mean, editor or trained critique partner to see what you can’t see.  You are too close to the writing and have the ability to skip over those important questions and even worse, falsely justify.

And now I’m going to give you a knit hat under the tree, instead of an Xbox…

      The Method Blocks are most effective when used with one another. Justification alone is like riding a really well tuned bike without handlebars . . . or . . . a seat!

Ouch! How do I learn to use the rest of the Method Blocks?

Your next step as a writer, if you haven’t done so already, is to take an acting class. Not all of them get into Method Acting in the more advanced classes, but it couldn’t hurt to step in and give it a shot.

      Tiffany?!?!  Remember we are all in our pjs, have kids to chauffeur AND a job to go to AND need time to write! No TIME for acting class in my busy schedule, I’ll tell you-

      And we are kind of shy…an acting class with actor people? Actors are like extroverts on elephant doses of speed!

Oh. Right.

I’ll try not to take offense to that last comment.  DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE ACTORS. You are there to learn just the same as they are.

Ideas to take the edge off an acting class as a writer:

  • Research the class ahead of time – If they mention teachings from Constantin Stanislavski, Sanford Meisner, Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, or of course – Method Acting  - that’s a good thing!
  • Talk to the instructor – ask questions.
  • Make sure the class is NOT Improv (for on-your-feet-flash characters) or Scene Study (for serious actors)
  • Take a friend and use a buddy system!
  • Before you go to the class, thumb through your manuscript and jot down what you are struggling with in terms of showing a genuine tangible character. A list of questions for yourself .

Specific questions like:

-how can I show her love for her father in this scene without making it melodramatic?

-during the fight between brothers, how can I show the ghosts of a true brotherhood.

-before we meet the hero we need to see that he is the type of man the heroine should fall in love with, how can I show this without showing the hero?

Or general questions like:

-how to show fear in a strong character

-how to show strength without being obvious

-how to show elements of depression without throwing a red flag

-how to show a protective mother without being stereotypical

The MAIN question should be:

-How do I write truthfully in these imaginary circumstances?

I’m going to repeat that.

Write truthfully in imaginary circumstances.  Something I heard, almost daily, in theatre school. And something actors are constantly telling themselves when approaching a character role: Act truthfully in imaginary circumstances.  It’s a simple sentence to take to heart and it’s easy to stick to your computer monitor, along with the grocery list and the reminder for your auntie’s birthday. *wink wink!*

      Thank you all for joining me today. I hope this slight introduction to Method Acting helps open your writing brain to embrace acting and all that it can do for you.  It really is the most dramatic of these two artistic mediums. I think our written characters deserve to walk down the red carpet just as much as Meryl Streep.  And if not to wear a fancy dress, then to sell books! 

Comment below and tell us what published characters would win the 2013 Character Oscars…if there were such a thing.( I’m pretty sure Katniss would be up for an award!)    Or just say “hi!”  

            p.s. If you comment, your name will be in the hat to win a free spot in one of Tiffany’s online courses offered through Lawson Writer’s Academy.

Courses Tiffany is teaching this year: In April - From MADNESS to Method: Out-of-your-chair acting techniques to invigorate your writing and make your characters Oscar worthy!    In May - 77 Secrets To Writing YA Fiction That Sells! TBA, Triple Threat Behind Staging A Sceneto be offered again in late-summer.  These courses will be taught at least twice a year. You won’t miss out!

Want to work with me in person?  Sign up for my Action Scene ALL DAY WORKSHOP  at: http://www.thinkbannedthoughts.com/Tipi-Tales.html mid-May

Tiffany Lawson Inman (NakedEditor) claimed a higher education at Columbia College Chicago. Here, she learned to use body and mind together for action scenes, character emotion, and dramatic story development. She teaches for Lawson Writer’s Academy and presents hands-on-action workshops. As a freelance editor, she provides story analysis and editing services.

You can find Tiffany at http://tiffanylawsoninmanisnakededitor.com/ or follow on twitter @NakedEditor

0 comments on “Writers, Act Now!”

  1. Tiffany, being the compulsive that I am ... I woke too early because I have an early errand. Could I leave without checking my email ... I mean what if someone wrote something at 6am and I needed urgently to read it? So yeah, I am in a "sleep" shirt (PJ's make me itch) and I am half awake. Then you poked me in the eye and I'm awake now!! I am planning an edit for a romantic mystery I let "breathe" for two weeks. I am submitting something (3 chptrs; query; synop) ... I am planning 3 mos of posts in advance to have "time," and I needed this post to remind me what to look for as I begin this new edit.

    Thanks first. Much thanks second. I will keep all of this in my head while I edit. To give you an example I'll go to an older series I am reading from book one. I am on book four. Why go back to one of a series of 25 books? Because the writer was someone I needed to study. Michael Connelly and his great Harry Bosch series. Harry ... how did I react to Harry the first time we met? How does Connelly engage me in the crime, the setting, bring me into Harry's head ... and how did he make me fall in love with LA county (since I've never been)?? He weaves emotion, angst, beautiful prose, anger, longing and sad memories. He drew me into Harry's time as a tunnel rat in Vietnam, he sat me on his balcony of a stilt house and painted the valley below as the smog rises and the sky turns blue, he drove me up and down the coast road. The critics were right about Connelly. He is one of the best. And ...

    WITS are right about you. You are also one of the best. Have a productive weekend. I'm really going out now, so check in with you later 🙂

    1. Ramblings - I think some coffee MIGHT have poked you in the eye along with my post 🙂

      I adore your enthusiasm! If I hadn't gone to bed 20 min after you wrote your comment, I might be right there with you in the world of WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

      M. Connelly is a Great example - thank you for reminding me he is there for
      the example plucking 🙂

      thank YOU for starting of the comments with such a KICK!

  2. SQUEE, Tiffany! Only 2 more sleeps until we start adding some Method to my manuscript Madness! Thanks to this post, I am even more pumped! WOOT!

  3. Double SQUEE! Remember how I said I couldn't handle both Fab30 and FROM MADNESS to Method in the same month?

    I changed my mind. ALL INN is coming to the party. If you still have room for me, that is.

  4. Total tip awesome goodness packed in this post! Bookmarking this post. Thanks, Tiffany and the fabulous Writers in the Storm for hosting.

    1. Woot! I like hearing that - THANK YOU!

      Besides bookmarking, Gene, what ELSE are you
      going to do with this information?

      Have you looked at the community college yet for an acting class? Or will I see you
      on my roster for Madness to Method: Creating Oscar Worthy Characters?

      Like, I said in the title - ACT NOW !

  5. Great post filled with a lot of information. Definitely going in my "to keep" file. My critique partner pointed out to me once that acting out character's movements can be essential in the scenes being realistic, and that's so true. This really taking that idea further. Love it, and thanks!

  6. Tiff!!!

    I am SO JEALOUS of the writers that get to work with you and your mama this week!! They are so daggum lucky!!

    My Character Oscars....

    Katniss (duh!)
    Jacinda from FIRELIGHT by Sophie Jordan
    Mibs from SAVVY by Ingrid Law (she uses a TON of splendid rhetorical devices and I have highlighted them all!)
    Lucy from DIRTY LITTLE SECRETES by CJ Omololu (a teen girl's mom is a hoarder and dies in the hoard and she can't get her out!)

    Have a SUPER week - kiss the puppies for me! And your mama!


    1. Woot woot - Character Oscars here we come!

      I'm jotting down these titles to run and get fab examples, thank you Lara!

      You will have to come out for another Immersion. I pre-edit the students
      most actiony of action scenes and sometimes another chapter while they are working up there. And THEN - the act-out-scene night is not just play time anymore (although still totally totally fun) we completely reworked a fight scene last time.

      Ladies learned A LOT. And so did Calypso - she was our only audience member!

    1. Jaudiss1234 - head on over to Lawson Writer's Academy and sign up for an online class! It's not as expensive as a plane ticket, it won't have the same view as Colorado...but your brain and your writing will thank you!

      From MADNESS to Method: Out-of-your-chair acting techniques to invigorate your writing and make your characters Oscar worthy! ------------ class starts in 2 days!!!!

  7. Wow, your enthusiasm is contagious which is exactly how I feel about my writing- enthusiastic. I'm happiest when I'm writing and I love, love making my characters into beings that readers will empathize with and have feelings for. It's a hard road. I would love to take an method acting class and now that you talked about it, I'm going to look around to see if I can find one.
    Thank you for this post.

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Patricia! Glad i could share some
      enthusiasm with you today 🙂

      If you are wandering around and can't seem to find a face-to-face method class -
      come on over to Lawson Writer's Academy and take Madness to Method: Creating
      Oscar Worthy Characters - taught by me, of course *wink wink
      and it starts April 2nd - that is in TWO DAYS *nudge nudge

      I have combined the Method exercises with writing craft and I teach writers how to transfer The Method found emotions into each facet of character and emotion.

      Hope to see you there!

  8. Thanks for the fantastic post, Tiffany!
    I've tried to act out smaller movements while sitting at my computer---just the other day I sat here pointing angrily at nothing to try and see what it would look and feel like~good thing no one was around at the time~LOL! I've got Brandilyn Collins's Getting into Character on my Kindle~it's been awhile since I read it...I may have to go back through my notes and highlights to refresh my memory.
    Again, thanks a million!
    ~Roni Lynne

    YA Adventures in the Paranormal...and Beyond!

    Connect with me!

    Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/RoniLynneAuthor

    Twitter: http://twitter.com/RoniLynneAuthor

    1. Roni - I don't know what you look like yet, but I can still see this image in my head!

      NICE 🙂

      Come take my Madness to METHOD class and I will provide you with MANY MORE MOMENTS like that one - only in these you WILL reach that emotion and FEEL IT SWEAT and be able to inject it into a character in your WIP.

  9. I had the good fortune to work with Tiffinay in person last week at a Lawson Writers Academy retreat. WOW. My cardboard 2-D action scene got a 3-D overall. Little did I know my herione had brought a broadsword to a knife fight. One of my bad guys even held a rope over his head for the whole scene. But, I swear, I saw it perfectly in my mind... Tiffany helped me get it on the page with POWER. I highly recomend her classes to anyone looking to take their writing to the next level. Five stars.

    1. I MIGHT have paid Susannah to say all of that...NAH....I think she LOVES ME!

      *doing a happy wiggle in my chair*

      Your scene might have been cardboard 2-D but is STILL evoked a reaction from me when I read it - and THAT counts for something 🙂 Thanks for being such a great sport that night. And for putting up with our plastic straws - and because you did - your fight scene is going to ROCK ROCK ROCK!

  10. Ooh I would LOVE to win the YA class!!
    This is great tips! Like mother, like daughter, You and your mama rocks!! I had your mom edit my work once before and of course taken her classes. Looking frwd to getting to know you better too! Wish I could go to that retreat!

  11. Hi Tiffany! My mind is numb after reading your post. Could be my brain has ODed on two immersion classes back to back.

    BUT - all those character questions are bouncing around in my head and already I'm pinning them down in different part of my WIP.

    Thanks for posting!

    1. Carole -
      YES! We have achieved MIND NUMBNESS, people, MIND NUMBNESS. **The effect of over stimulation in the writing/editing part of the brain.**

      Glad to see I could challenge you once more.

      Now if I could just stop time for a few hours to edit your fight scene!!! I think it might be a 2am-er. But don't worry - I am MORE creative at night!

    1. Sounds good, Elizabeth! That reminds me - toss me an email with any available dates towards the end of the month for a blog - I have a YA blog that doesn't have a home yet. let me know if you are interested 🙂

      See you in May!

  12. I am sitting here shaking my head and grinning widely at the utterly strange coincidence of the timing of your post. I was JUST thinking about possibly enrolling in a beginning acting class for two reasons: 1) because I thought it might help me deepen my characters in my novel and 2) I'm fascinated by an actor's ability to bring a written character and scene to life. I think I'm going to have to find a way to make it to one of your classes. I'm very inspired to look further into acting classes in my area as well. Thank you so much for this post!

  13. I signed up for Ms. Margie's class today (my first) and plan to do your YA one in May. I don't have the mental gymnastic abilities to do 2 classes in April AND all my blogging I've signed on for next month. See you in May!

  14. I'm a Margie graduate of Empowering Character Emotions and I lived and breathed Michal, my main character for an entire year. It was a wonderful class. To capture the emotions of having a cheating husband, I forced myself to read a Bathsheba book.

    For days I walked around with feelings of impending doom, shortness of breath, a constricting pressure on my chest. Even though my husband was sitting in the den playing video games, I got clingy and demanding. Okay, maybe taking this too far. But I really enjoyed Margie's class, and I believe your class would take this to the next step. Instead of reading a book on Bathsheba, you'd have us jumping out of our chairs and shadow boxing.

    Have a great time in Colorado. This post showed up on my Paper.li Writer's Window and I'm going to bookmark it.

    Rachelle Ayala (Clare in Margie's class)
    Author of Michal's Window

    1. Clare,
      Hahahahhaa, what did your hubby think about your
      behavior? Poor guy!

      Yes. Jumping out of your chairs is a MUST 🙂 This class will have active homework AND writing homework. I'm counting on my students to go under the surface waves for sure!

      1. He had no clue, but I suppose he enjoyed the extra attention. I have actually tied up my ankles and held my hands together to see how much mobility I had as far as rolling around on the floor as a hostage. My next book as a scene in a parking lot where I have to make sure it was realistic for her to roll over parking blocks and into a drainage ditch.

        And no, my husband refused to tie me up to see how it felt to be a hostage. And, well, I was too scared to cut myself to see how it would feel to be carved up with a Swiss army knife.

        Next would be reenactments of fights and arguments, but my husband refuses to do those. About all he's good for is picking the cover models. 🙂

  15. Well first of all thanks Tiffany. Here in Godzone, it's a Sunday afternoon and we've just changed over with Daylight Saving so I am feeling especially tired. However there was so much insight and information in this post that my head feels like its about ready to explode!! I really like the idea of asking 'why' at everything your character does. Never thought of that before. Great stuff!
    Yvette Carol

  16. Yvette -
    I'm going to ask that you NOT sign up for my Method to Madness class. WHY WHY WHY??

    Because there will be head explosions at LEAST 4 times a week, and I hear that can get messy.

    thanks for stopping by - even in your state-of-sleepiness (SOS)

    ~always be learning

    1. Tiffany...don't tempt a girl by telling her 'not' to do something!! Btw; head explosions seem to be de rigeur this year for some reason, not sure why! But that's what it's been like all year. Seriously though...can't afford any extras at the mo. Have had to put myself on a tight budget to satisfy my bank manager!!
      Thanks for answering....and yes ma'am, I intend to keep learning. I love that song that goes...'and you learn, and learn, and learn!' Yep, noted and posted 🙂
      Yvette Carol

  17. Great post Tiffany. Thanks for sharing. And yes, I agree there should be an award for compelling characters in literature...maybe you could motion that and I'll second that to get it started. 🙂

    ~Happy Writings,
    Marissa MacFae
    "Timeless romance with touch of Fae Magick..."
    KING'S CROSSING~coming in April~
    (celticdreamerfaery (at) hotmail.com)

    1. Thanks for popping over, Marissa. I'd love to see the fashion recaps for a literary character Oscar Awards 🙂 Too funny.

      Fae Magick, eh? What do you think of that LOST GIRL show. is it giving the fae world a good or bad rep for your readers?

  18. I'm leaving the comment hat open until 9. Come back then, and the winner will be revealed!

    And the REST of you will zooooooooooooom over to Lawson Writers Academy
    and register for my class anyway, right?!?

    Because EVERY ONE who takes this class will be a winner in the end 🙂

    I smell a Golden Heart Award for a Method Writer ! ! !

  19. Awesome article Tiffany! Hope to take a class with you soon. I'm taking Margie classes right now. Thanks for the excellent perspective on character building!

    1. Amanda and Renee - I hope your WRITING CRAFT INPUT section of the brain has room for my DRAMATIC editing style next to my mom's deep editing style. 🙂 Make room for Tiffany!

      I do both when I am editing manuscripts...been told that I bring INTENSE Micro and Macro editing to the table. It's a lot of pieces to manage, but WOW does it work.

  20. As picked by random.org ------ the WINNER is ----------------------------------Yvette Carol ! ! ! ! ! ! ! CONGRATS TO YOU

    Which one are you going to pick?
    In April – From MADNESS to Method: Out-of-your-chair acting techniques to invigorate your writing and make your characters Oscar worthy!
    In May – 77 Secrets To Writing YA Fiction That Sells!
    TBA, Triple Threat Behind Staging A Scene to be offered again in late-summer. These courses will be taught at least twice a year. You won’t miss out!

    THANK YOU ALL for reading and commenting this weekend. As always it is a pleasure to be here on WITS to share head exploding amounts of information and insight on writing craft.

    Please join us next month on the last Friday of the month for more MORE MORE!

    1. Hey Tiffany! I have only just come online and discovered that I won. Yippee!!!!!!
      I feel it's my lucky day. What a blessing. Thank you for this....:-) I'm super psyched! I would very much like to do the 'MADNESS to Method' if that is okay? What is "today" where you are, (because here in New Zealand it's April 3rd)? I'm just worried you may have started already....
      I look forward to hearing from you. I sent you an email a minute ago to the address you gave on LinkedIn, so you can email me direct if you prefer.
      Cheers, and thanks again!
      I can't wait to study under your brilliant leadership. What a pleasure!
      Yvette Carol

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