“Method Acting” in Writing: Letting your characters influence you too much…

sad1Definition from Wiki: The school of method acting is a family of techniques used by actors to create in themselves the thoughts and feelings of their characters, so as to develop lifelike performances. The “method” in method acting usually refers to the practice in which actors draw upon their own emotions and memories in their portrayals, aided by a set of exercises and practices including sense memory and affective memory.

I don’t know about you guys, but I definitely do this in my writing. When I develop a character, especially when writing in 1st Person POV, I become them. I experience their experiences, I feel their feelings. They can be male or female, but in 1st person POV I assume their identity as I write. So here’s the story: For some reason last month, I put down a thriller WIP I was about 20K into and picked up a novel I haven’t touched in about a year. It’s a very dark book, dealing with emotional issues, abuse, neglect, but is also quite powerful in that it’s about the main character overcoming obstacles and finally coming to a place of peace. It’s not the type of book I normally write, but for some reason my muse was calling to me and I picked it up and in just a few weeks I went from 20K to over 46K.

The problem is, it’s been an emotional few weeks personally for me for a myriad of reasons; family, friends, perceived slights, just life stuff. Nothing major and nothing that most people don’t normally go through. But, I’ve noticed I’m also more sensitive than normal. After a very brooding week, I realized I may have been channeling my character too much. I have been going back and editing the book and at times it’s a very sad, dark place. The sheer misery of what I put my poor character through is not something I’ll discuss, but I had a need to put it down on paper. This damaged soul just sits with me all day, hovering right behind me, gently touching my shoulder with her fingertips if I’m not writing. She just waits there to remind me that her life still needs to be resolved. If you’re like me, you never really “turn off” your characters and they play in your mind like little daydreams all day long.

I think this is what has happened to me. I realized that I was letting my character’s emotions invade my reality. After some thought on this, I decided that I’d tapped into what I’m going to call “The Method Act of Writing” where just like actors who completely delve into a character to portray them realistically, I’ve done that as a writer, and maybe too well.

Knowing I have no intention of stopping this WIP, I’ve decided to find moments in my day where she’s not living with me. I took three yoga classes this week to clear my mind and focus on positive thoughts. And then a funny thing happened. In my edits, I’m now on a chapter where my character is afforded the slightest bit of reprieve of happiness. Not to mention, I’m also in a better mood, too. Coincidence? I don’t know, but both me and my character are happier for it for the moment.

So I leave you with this. Keep your characters with you, but if they are emotional wrecks, let them exist behind a door when you’re not working on them. It could be a glass door that you can see through and still know they’re there, but if they’re in trouble, let them stay in trouble on the other side of that door until you’re ready to help them. Because if you open it, they’re here and you’ll have no choice but to write them back behind that door. It’s a hard thing to do, and if you’re like me, nearly an impossibility, but try.

Has anyone else had a similar experience? I’d love to hear that I’m not the only one that’s one step away from the asylum.

Also, please feel free to come on over and like my author page at http://www.facebook.com/elysesalpeterauthor for updates. Would love to see you there!

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8 thoughts on ““Method Acting” in Writing: Letting your characters influence you too much…

  1. You bring up some great points. In the story I’m currently working on, I have several characters with their own diverse personalities and as I move them around and have them doing their jobs, I frequently find myself having emotional reactions to some of the ways they deal with their situations. It’s interesting when a character veers off the expected path. I’m often shaking my head at them but I take it as a sign that they are coming alive to me and by extension, the reader.

    • I agree – In this WIP I’m amazed at the reactions my character has for a particular situation too, because it’s not something I would think to do in my normal life. I think you’re right on track. Thank you so much for commenting. 🙂

  2. Absolutely! My facial expression changes. My body language/movements change. I have to warn my family not to interrupt me while working on tense scenes. And I have to be careful not to bring those emotions into my real life. I remind myself of a blog I read years ago, when the author was having a meltdown because her main character was going through a terrible crisis, and she couldn’t understand how everyone around her wasn’t feeling the same stress and depression as she was because of it. It’s just in my head. I’m not really going through a crisis…

    • You hit it on the head – we sometimes lose control of ourselves in these characters and let them dictate our emotions. At least I’ve been doing that with this one book. Have to keep remembering that I am not her and not living her very sad life right now.

  3. I’m not a writer but I do know that Rebekah’s WIP main character begina as a fourteen year old boy and she said some days it’s exhausting living the imaginary life of a teen-aged boy.

  4. I was JUST thinking today that although I have some really great ideas for dark fiction (evil / horror, etc..) I don’t think I could do it. I don’t want to go to those places within myself in order to be able to write a believable text. LOL!!!

  5. It’s not just you, Elyse. I find myself channeling the emotions of my characters, and the emotional impacts of the events I’m writing about. It’s fascinating, and a little scary at times!

    At times, I’ll find myself in a dark place and recognize that it’s because I’m carrying some baggage from my (fictional) characters. It takes a conscious effort for me to push them back into their pretend world!

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