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
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.
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!
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.
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!
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