How Acting Makes Better Writers

Posted by Superwench83

With so many writers here at Debuts and Reviews, and with the popularity which Writer Wednesday enjoys, I thought writing would be a good topic for my first non-review post. I can’t promise I’ll be as wonderful a guest as Justin Allen and the other authors who’ve joined the writing discussions in the past, but I’ll give it my best. And I hope that even if I’m not the world’s most fascinating guest, I’ll at least be mildly entertaining.

As many of you know, I am a writer. But you probably didn’t know that I’m an actress as well. I’m a serious hobbyist, you might say; I don’t usually get paid for my acting, but I do a lot of it. And one of the best things about acting is that it constantly teaches me how to be a better writer. Acting and fiction writing have so much in common. They’re both about character. Yes, there are other things involved, but when you strip them both to their essence, you’re left with character.

The first writing book I ever had summed up the similarites well. It said that when you’re acting, you have to get in your character’s head, while with writing, you have to be in every characters’ head. “So you’re head-hopping all the time.” It follows that one can help you with the other.

Being a serious actor, like being a serious writer, requires you to look deeply into your character and discover what makes him tick, what makes him unique, and what makes him a character to remember. But acting requires you to look at your character in a different way than many writers do. With acting, all your character’s emotions and thoughts must be demonstrated visually and audibly. There is no narrator filling in the gaps. You must walk, talk, think, move, breathe like you are the character because you have no other way to communicate that character to the audience. Have you ever done that with your written characters? Sure, we think about the way they move and talk. We get into their heads. But we generally don’t get into their bodies. We don’t physically become that character, don’t practice walking and moving the way they do. In fact, it sounds kind of strange to do that.

Yet you would be amazed at how much deeper your connection to a character is when you evaluate her with an actor’s eyes. You’ll learn things about your character which you never knew. The act of moving like your character will bring on a slew of new ways to describe the way she moves. It will open up doors that take you to the very essence of your character.

It’s the old principle of “Write what you know.” I know some writers consider these dirty words, btu they hold some truth. You can’t make a character convincing unless you know him. And thinking about your character with an actor’s perspective lets you know him on two levels instead of one. I know not everyone is going to go out and role-play as their characters, but the simple act of being more aware of your characters’ bodies and pretending that you’re in their skin brings out so many facets of character which might not come to you otherwise. Acting has always given me a fresh perspective on the writing process, and I’ve no doubt it will continue to do so. With each show I’m in, I get new inspiration.

It’s always good to look for outside inspiration for your writng craft. I love hearing what writers do aside from write–their jobs and hobbies–and see if I find a reflection of it in their work. I’m sure there are tons of ways for writers to find writing wisdom in the non-writing world. So what about you? How have your jobs or hobbies made you better writers?

7 Thoughts to “How Acting Makes Better Writers”

  1. Tia Nevitt

    I know role-playing games aren’t exactly fashionable — and in fact, they are the epitome of geekdom — but it would probably surprise no one to learn that I do play role-playing games. In one game that I ran as game master, I introduced an extremely tall and muscled woman named Abriel Korpesh. I was test-driving her for a novel I wanted to write. When I transferred her from character sheet to character sketch, I toned down the muscle, darkened her skin, and refined her character. I discovered what didn’t work and was able to eliminate them before I even started the novel.

    Another character, Tory from my regency fantasy, was partially based on a kick-ass character I played long ago. I dropped the kick-ass ability but kept her penchant for making friends of everyone. And I kept her tendency of getting into trouble when her charms don’t quite work like they usually do.

    Nowadays when I write, I like to spend some time writing scenes that I’ll probably never use. I call these pilot scenes, because they steer me in the direction in which I need to take the character. And often, I don’t know what that direction is until I write the scene. I just come up with a situation and let the character’s actions dictate. These are sometimes introspective, sometimes sexy and sometimes action-packed. The ones that progress the story get to stay. The rest go into the deleted scenes folder.

  2. I really haven’t used either acting or role-playing to develop characters. The closest I got was writing a story related to a module I’d worked up. That just isn’t the same. {Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  3. Oh, I have used a series of short stories and vignettes to develop the same characters from different angles. That’s still not exactly like any anyone else mentioned, but Tia’s pilot scenes remind me of them. {Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  4. While I’ve played my share of role-playing games, I’ve never based any characters off of them. But the idea for author Marie Brennan’s book Midnight Never Come came from a role-playing game.

  5. Tia Nevitt

    Cool, so now I don’t feel so geeky!

  6. This is a wonderful post…. I really enjoyed it. As to one of your later points, you are correct in that “write what you know” sounds like pure balderdash to a fantasy writer. But… if you make that “write what you think you know” then I think you can get some mileage. Write with authority!!! And yes, use your experiences to inform your choices!

  7. Exactly! Your experiences inform your choices. That’s what I think that “Write what you know” means. For example, my current WIP is set in rural Pennsylvania German country in the 1700s. If you look at “Write what you know” in a literal sense, I don’t KNOW that because I’ve never lived it. But I know rural communities from having lived in one for pretty much my whole life. I use my experiences to inform my writing. So when you look at “Write what you know” in this light, I think it’s fantastic advice.

    Glad you enjoyed the post!

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