Working on my next book in the midst of enjoying another fantastic American Players Theater season started me thinking. Acting and writing are both, after all, forms of storytelling. When I write a book I start with character development. I use a “voice journal” and write in the 1st person voice of my characters. Whether my final writing is in 1st or 3rd person, I find it invaluable to begin with my characters speaking to me directly. As their voices become familiar, their attitudes bubble to the surface and mannerisms form. Before I know it, I’m walking around the house talking in different voices. I even have arguments between characters where I talk both sides. Hey, why not act crazy? I’m a writer and being eccentric is one of the perks. In the middle of one of these “crazy” moments, I wondered about the actor’s process.
Character Development: The Art of Acting, an Unexpected Resource
As a novelist, I’ve found studying other forms of the written word (screenwriting, poetry, non-fiction essays, playwriting, songwriting) strengthens my novel writing. Why not branch beyond and see what acting had to teach me for character development? I was already walking around, talking in strange voices. I picked up Stella Adler’s book, The Art of Acting and flipped to the table of contents. Various chapters called to the writer within me: Developing the Imagination, Building a Vocabulary of Actions, Character Elements, and Learning a Character’s Rhythm. As I read, I found when I opened my mind just a bit (ouch! That always hurts, doesn’t it?) acting concepts do cross over to writing. Quite nicely, in fact.
Character Development: Acting Techniques
As a writer, it’s natural to borrow acting techniques. Whether an audience hears a character speak or a reader hears dialogue in his head as he reads, voice defines characters and makes them real. Voice grabs our interest and draws us in to truly experience the story. It is well worth your time to develop the voice of your characters and narrative.
Character Development: Live a Day in Your Character’s Shoes
Let your character come to life and tell you her story. Live a day in her shoes. Figure out why she dresses or moves in a particular way and then do it yourself. You’ll gain insight by wearing her clothes, using her mannerisms, and speaking words in her voice. See the world through your character’s eyes. Remember, you’re a writer; you get to act crazy! Slip her on. Become her. Think like your character and the motivation behind everything she does will crystallize. What better way to make a character come to life than to let her borrow your body and move about the world? And what better way to really understand her? If you want your reader to experience your story, experience it yourself. You (with the invaluable help of your character) will bring your prose to life. So grab a page from acting and start writing!
Award-winning novelist Kathy Steffen teaches fiction writing and speaks at writing programs across the country. Additionally, Kathy is also published in short fiction and pens a monthly writing column, Between the Lines. Her books, FIRST THERE IS A RIVER, JASPER MOUNTAIN and THEATER OF ILLUSION are available online and at bookstores everywhere.