Tag Archive | characters

“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!

Stop Making Your Characters So Perfect – no one is that nice…

perfectI have a problem with character development at times. I think up a story, have this idea for my main protagonist and I run with it. In the first draft of my novels, these people are simply “perfect.” They are beautiful and kind. They don’t curse, drink or steal. They’re amazing athletes and intellectually brilliant. They can sing, dance and play musical instruments. And not just one of the abilities above, but ALL OF THEM. It’s as if I’m trying to make a superhero version of “me” that is just so perfect all I want to do is live in their amazing little world for the entirety of the story.

But, that’s not real life. Twenty-two year olds don’t say “gosh, darn and shucks.” People have problems and they’re vulnerable. There are things they can’t do. No one is as flawless as I make my characters in the first draft of any of my novels.

And that’s where my editor, Denise Vitola, came in again on my most recent work. My beautiful and faultless female protagonist is human and there’s no way in this first draft she coming off as believable. Denise said, “You know, she could have problems in her relationships with her friends and her brother, you know.” I was like, “Why? Why can’t they all just get along?” She said, “Because that’s not real life. You don’t have to make your characters so perfect.”

Her final thought on this conversation stuck with me greatly. “Lyse, we don’t have to like your main character, but we DO have to empathize with them.” I can’t stop thinking about that comment and it’s now shaping my perception of every character I’ve ever written.

The word, “empathize.” What a great word. I need to add empathy and depth to my characters. I need to give them real life problems. I have to make my readers care about them. My main protagonist now fights with her brother like cats and dogs, she is emotional, she misses her target when she shoots someone. She has piercings, wears too much make-up and is a bit of a tease. In the first draft she was so pristine she could have floated. She’s finally “real.”

So, beware of making your characters too perfect. If they’re human, and this isn’t a sci-fi book about aliens, we must remember to keep them humanly real so they are believable for our readers.

Time to go give my character a few tattoos. :)

For anyone interested, my editor Denise is doing a special until Labor Day. Normally she charges $4 a page, but she’s only charging $2 a page, double-spaced, for your manuscript. Here’s her website: http://www.thomas-talks-to-me.com/editing/index.html