Writing Tips: Method Acting

9 Aug

Method acting–if you’re familiar with it, you probably start thinking of Heath Ledger, Robert De Niro, or Daniel Day-Lewis. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s defined as an acting method in which actors and actresses never break character while shooting a film. Another aspect some consider “Method Acting” is when actors go to extremes, like Christian Bale’s loss of 63 lbs for his character in The Machinist.

But did you ever think about doing something like this for your novels?

I am here to admit that I have, and I am here to admit it with an insane amount of embarrassing (but fun) detail! Let me explain: I love writing. I do. But I sometimes get headaches from how long I end up staring at my computer screen. When this happens, I do something…different. I get out of my chair and pretend I am a character. I will talk like that character and jump around to become other characters. If someone walked in on me doing this, I’d probably look like a toddler who ate too much candy while trying to explain a bizarre dream I’d had earlier that morning. But it works for me, and it’s not the only thing I do. I’ve gone to cafes specifically because my character would. I also practice dialogue in my car. So I’m sure someone out there has seen me screaming at myself. (What can I say? Some scenes get intense.)

So why do I do this? 

Although we are “in character” when we are writing, we are generally sitting at a desk, hunched over a notebook or keyboard. We are writing about living (actions and words) but we may not practice them out loud and see what it’d actually look and feel like. For instance, I will actually lay physical objects down when writing out any kind of scene to see if the movements my characters make don’t conflict with how they are speaking. I wouldn’t want one character to move across the entire room and whisper. So I like knowing it would work out in the physical world. Same with dialogue. It may read really well, but I’ve spoken it out loud just to realize it sounds ridiculous. And, if I can’t scream it when I’m in their mind, my character isn’t going to scream it. Lesson learned. They are in control–even if I am the one creating them.

Basically:

Acting can help writing, even if you’re not an actor. Honestly, I took an acting class in high school, and I was probably the worst in the class. I can’t act. But I can get into character in my own way–and connect with my writing in a physical way that may help me take it to the next level. I’m not suggesting losing 63 lbs like Christian Bale. (In fact, please don’t.) But I would suggest trying to get up from the desk and take on your novel in real life. It might give you a new perspective.

And this is me--"acting" at 3 years old in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Yeah for the 90's.

And this is me–“acting” at 3 years old in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Yeah for the 90’s.

One last thing:

Minutes Before Sunset has been added to Goodreads: Best of Little-Known Authors, and I’d really appreciate some supportive votes to move upwards in the list. Even better, you can add your novels too! If you send me a link, I’ll vote for yours too 😀 You can vote for 100 books.

I also have a lot of exciting news coming soon! Can’t wait to share. 

~SAT

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21 Responses to “Writing Tips: Method Acting”

  1. darylgstewart August 9, 2013 at 1:31 am #

    Shannon, the voting website is down for maintenance. I’ll try to remember to do it tomorrow.
    My twitter is @darylste and if you have time tomorrow, you can remind me to vote and I will not mind.
    Meanwhile, I think you are suggesting that writers use a device like method-acting (method writing?) to help them with putting their thoughts to paper. Well, I wonder if the real person is that method person and the author personna is a “method” of sorts that we use in real life just to get through the common drudgery? Does that make sense? What do you think?

    • Shannon Thompson August 9, 2013 at 2:02 pm #

      I have to admit that I’m unsure of what you’re saying exactly. More details? (Or maybe I need more coffee lol)
      ~SAT

      • darylgstewart August 9, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

        sorry. you know the person you become when you “method-write?”. Well what if that is the real you? And what if the person you really thought you were is not your true self? That would make the practice of writing a lesson in self-awareness! Or not, I don’t know, it’s just a twist that occurred to me .

      • Shannon Thompson August 9, 2013 at 5:53 pm #

        O_O This is like “Mind Blown: Writer Edition.” I like it. I like it very much. I have considered those possibilities. As far as I have gotten? My characters have to be bits of me. The question is how much and what does that mean?
        ~SAT

      • darylgstewart August 9, 2013 at 5:54 pm #

        Attagirl!

  2. papermashed August 9, 2013 at 1:50 am #

    What a brilliant look into ur writing life. Thanks for sharing. I’m glad I’m not the only one that ‘talks’ their dialogue out.

    • Shannon Thompson August 9, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

      Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it. And it’s good to hear of others talking their dialogue out as well.
      ~SAT

  3. vevacha August 9, 2013 at 2:32 am #

    Great post! Reminds me of the few times I’ve gotten into character to suss out a difficult scene, and it’s always worked so well. Almost all the characters in my current WIP are teenage girls, but hey, nothing like a challenge to get you motivated :p

    • Shannon Thompson August 9, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

      hah! You’re completely right.Funny you say that about girls, because it’s actually harder for me to write as a girl. I find the male voice easier, which I have yet to figure out why that is–other than the fact that my father always likes to say I was raised by wolves. lol
      ~SAT

      • vevacha August 9, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

        Haha maybe that’s it! I have a friend (female) who also has some trouble writing female characters. I wonder though if that’s at least partly because of the kind of male and female characters and stories about them that we’re exposed to, especially growing up – the male voice is so ingrained as ‘universal’ in popular fiction across most media, and I know when I set about creating characters I tend to automatically draw from other fictional characters that already exist rather than, say, people I know.

  4. ahamin August 9, 2013 at 4:29 am #

    A character of mine, Adam Goldfish (AKA Shark), is imprisoned for 13 years. I locked myself in my room for hours to imagine how does it feels like, and I used my imagination to stretch those hours into years. It was hard but really fun.
    Method acting is a good way to move forward, and it is fun to become one of our personas 😉

    • Shannon Thompson August 9, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

      What a story! Thanks for sharing. I think moments like that can truly make a story great.
      ~SAT

  5. Val Vogel August 9, 2013 at 7:50 am #

    You would have been a terrific Annie! : ). Val

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Shannon Thompson August 9, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

      LOL! I get that all the time when they see my toddler hair. It was pretty wild.
      ~SAT

  6. prysma August 9, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

    I do much the same. 🙂 Hands-on practice in some things gives you a reference point that imagination can’t quite cover (an example I recently mentioned to a friend involved an other-world fantasy involving a very primitive culture, and one character was a weaver, so I built myself a basic frame loom and experimented). Since every character I create has a bit of me inside of them, not always parts of me that I particularly care for, sometimes it’s a bit uncomfortable to get that far inside their heads, but it’s absolutely invaluable for making it all come to life, I think. (F Scott Fitzgerald: “Writers aren’t people exactly. Or, if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person.”)

    My friends tend to learn in a hurry that if they walk in on me talking to myself, doing both sides of the conversation, or in tears, or otherwise doing something odd and inexplicable, that it’s almost certainly something happening in my current project. The ones that can’t deal with it don’t stay friends long, because it’s not going to stop happening!

    • Shannon Thompson August 9, 2013 at 5:55 pm #

      I love the second part of your story! I write in public (in the same location) on a regular basis. The people around me have often stopped me to ask me why I’m making weird facial expressions (like glaring or twitching) and now they know why–I’m writing. Very amusing to hear them guess what I’m writing about based on my facial expressions alone.
      ~SAT

  7. iamclay September 1, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    While everyone’s confessing to this I feel I should admit to having got so engrossed in a conversation with a character while making tea that it was only when I sat back down at my desk that I realised I had made two cups instead of one!
    It’s good to know I’m not the only one though 🙂

    • Shannon Thompson September 1, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

      Now that is fun! I love this story. I am thinking of making coffee for my character next time.
      ~SAT

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Writing Tips: Method Acting | Ex-Nihlo-ish - August 13, 2013

    […] Writing Tips: Method Acting. […]

  2. Editing Tips | Shannon A Thompson - April 15, 2014

    […] he said this because I participate in this in many ways. If you want to read more about it, I wrote Writing Tips: Method Acting a while back. I scream my dialogue at myself in the car. I jump around my room and pretend to be […]

  3. Author Interview: Shannon A. Thompson | Books For Thought - May 24, 2014

    […] Plenty! I have used Barbies before to practice stories. (https://shannonathompson.com/2014/04/19/writing-with-barbie/) I’ve worn weird hats because they help me concentrate, and I often jump around my room as different character in what I call my “Writing Method Acting” (https://shannonathompson.com/2013/08/09/writing-tips-method-acting/)  […]

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