ctors have many different ways of preparing for their roles. Even non-thespians understand the idea of “getting into character.” We know there are methods which tell actors to draw from their own experiences in order to portray more authentic emotions. We’ve even heard stories of actors who are so immersed in their characters that they wear them off stage/camera, too.
But the writing process is still shrouded in mystery. Do writers have similar processes to actors? I think so. At least, I do to a certain extent.
I’ve talked before about how I find the emotion of the scene and play that out. It’s not easy putting yourselves in someone else’s shoes. My father is very much alive and well, but with Julia, I spent an entire book with someone still reeling from the death of her father. I had to remember a loss I had, amplify it, and finally analyze it to make sure it felt real…that it had the right balance of guilt and selfishness and pain and confusion and a million things you can’t name but know are under the surface.
But writing is more than just the emotion of the scene, and much is made of research before or during the writing journey.
If you have a character who loves flying hot air balloons, how much research do you do so that non-balloonists feel like they’re flying and actual balloonists don’t call your bluff? Do you actually have to become a balloonist to write a balloonist? Just like there are some authors who only write about settings they’ve visited or lived in, and others who rely totally on guidebook details, the answer is different for every author…and probably different for every story.
I usually do my research via books and computers. I’ve already admitted to Googling distances to better understand the timeline of a story. I have also driven through the actual cemetery where I wanted one of my characters buried…and that was after checking Google satellite view and scouring the website. I could have easily written about the place without visiting, but I’m glad I did. In fact, some of the real headstones showed up on my pages.
Another time, in another story, I had a character who loved black coffee to the point of distraction. At the time, I only drank coffee with flavor or, at the very least, cream and sugar. I forced myself to drink what he did…going so far as to roast my own beans with an old air popcorn popper because he did. I wanted to understand the process and to be able to better explain the taste of the coffee he was drinking. It’s actually changed me. I still drink mochas, but I also drink black coffee, when it’s good. So, basically, my character helped me cut back on the sugar, but in the process he made me into a bit of a coffee snob*.
I don’t use this writerly version of the Stanislavski method often, but it’s always interesting when I do.
Where do you fall in the method if writing?
*One of my readers wrote their own post about how doing things that your character did changed you as a writer. I couldn’t find the post and so couldn’t credit them with the idea. If you’re that writer, let me know so I can credit you and link back to your post.