August 15, 2012

Method Writing: ROW80 Update

"Writers that cannot feel, cannot write."

These words from Jo Michaels, in her Tough Scenes and Emotional Therapy post, really struck a chord with me.

You often hear about method actors. From Wikipedia: Method acting is any of a family of techniques used by actors to create in themselves the thoughts and emotions of their characters, so as to develop lifelike performances. Though not all Method actors use the same approach, the "method" in Method acting usually refers to the practice, influenced by Constantin Stanislavski and advocated by Lee Strasberg, by which actors draw upon their own emotions and memories in their portrayals.

Some actors do not use this approach, but it seems to me all writers should. You might not take your characters to the store, to bed, or even to a company picnic. But you rarely leave them behind completely. Without immersing yourself into the mind of the character you've created, the voice will never be as consistent or authentic.

However, I'm not saying you embrace the character so fully that you no longer follow your own conscience or behaviors.

Many said Heath Ledger spiralled into self-destruction after embracing the dark side of the Joker, the character he portrayed in The Dark Knight. Was it method acting taken too far? Many applauded his performance, but clearly it had a devastating effect on his personal life.

When I read emotionally draining books like Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, I often wonder how the writer survived the constant emotional anguish.

Jo Michaels asked a thought-provoking question in the post I mentioned above: When you read or write a very emotional scene, do you take those feelings with you? If so, how do you shake them off after?

I'd love to hear what people think.

For me, I dive into a book and let a different set of characters take me away. But sometimes I just have to embrace the emotions, have a good cry even. I must admit... I have never handled fear well. Maybe that's why I don't write a lot of terrifying scenes.

My writing tends to be equal parts humor and depth. Whenever I've been writing an intense part for too long, I switch to a humor-filled scene to lighten the load.

In Depression Cookies, I had to write a very emotional scene where the main character, a teenager, is visiting a friend in the hospital who is slowly killing herself. I cried every time I sat down with that chapter. But sometimes tears are cathartic.

But don't get me wrong, I was thrilled to get to the next humor-filled scene.


A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80) Update

On Monday, Mom and I (I'm still in North Carolina visiting family) took the girls to Raleigh to buy school clothes. The entire two hour drive back, we discussed possible titles for our Depression Cookies follow-up. Two hours. There's so much to consider. In fact, I think I'll write a post about titles.

We also discussed a cover. Another subject with blog post potential.

I'm on a writing and editing hiatus until school starts. It doesn't make sense to try to force it right now with two weeks to go. But my WIP is never far from my mind. Krista, my main character, is part of me. So much so that my friends say it reeks of Tia.

I'm so excited to jump back on the #teamsprinty bandwagon when the girls go back to school. I hope it's still happening. I might also jump into #wordmongering.

The nice part about taking a break... the building excitement to jump back in. I'm looking forward to it. Hope my fellow ROW80ers are rocking it!


Callie Leuck said...

I have a couple of characters that are...difficult to write. They're not necessarily nice people, and sometimes it seems rather frightening that I know them or understand them so well -- like this character is a reflection on me. I wonder how J.K. Rowling felt writing Voldemort or Wormtail. You can see some sympathy for all her "bad guys" -- even the Malfoys are an oddly touching portrayal of a true family.

A friend read my first three chapters and pointed out that my main character, a sixteen-year-old girl tends to use a lot of cliches. I thought, well I might take out those cliches, but there's a reason they came out for her -- she's emotional and driven and sincerely believes the cliched ideas. It was just very funny to me that he pointed out the cliches like a writing flaw; while they were inadvertent, it also conveyed a lot about her as a person.

Sometimes it is easier to write nonfiction and work with characters who are real people, who I just have to convey rather than invent and voice. Sometimes when I'm working in the harder scenes in my fiction story, I will take breaks for weeks because it is mentally and emotionally difficult to write.

Jo Michaels said...

Thanks for the mention, Tia! It seems like a lot of writers struggle with this very thing. Yassa had ups downs, humor, fear, anger, ugh! I was all over the place with that one. This series that I'm writing now deals with a lot of emotional issues. I may take a break after I get the third one written, that one is gonna take a lot outta me. Great post and thanks for running with the theme. WRITE ON!

Shah Wharton said...

Great, thought provaking post. I have wept and laughed while writing my novel. There are elements and cruelty and elements of humour. Even horror. I never thought about the Method Acting link before, but it's true. We must invest in our characters, feel what they feel even. Otherwise, I imagine the emotion will not reach the reader, and thet makes for a rather blank experience.

Thanks for sharing your inspired thoughts. :)

Unknown said...

I've not gotten to the point of crying over a specific scene I've been writing (as a guy, that's generally frowned upon,) but I still form deep connections with my characters. I have a female character in my WIP who is really getting hosed by the establishment, and I feel her pain, especially the upcoming pain when she realizes what she's truly up against.

Late in the book, I expect one of the more prominent characters to die, and I'm not looking forward to that point, because it's hard to part with someone who really is a part of you.

I believe that empathy is key to a writer's success, because a story without a true depth of emotion is just words on a page.

Thank you for the well thought-out post, and I wish you continued success in ROW80.

Beth Camp said...

Talk about covers. Please as that's where I'm stuck this week. Your premise that writers need to be able to sink emotionally into their characters feels very comfortable to me, even the villains. And I love the surprises as I slowly discover something new, whether from a bit of dialogue or a choice. May your writing go well this coming week.

Tia Bach said...

Callie, Interesting. So far my characters have been flawed, but rather "normal", so I'm not sure how I'd handle a difficult character. Also an interesting point about nonfiction. I tend to write about people in my life who have been fictionalized, so it's probably easier for me. Hmmmm.

Jo, Thanks for the great, inspiring post!

Shah, I only thought about method acting, because I've wondered why some actors admit to doing it and others don't. It seems they should all be "invested" but that's a hard call for a non-actor to make.

Mike, I agree about empathy. And fellow writers would totally understand if a tear of two fell when you wrote. ;-)

Beth, Covers it is. I'll have to do it soon. Appreciate the encouragement.