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Writing and Acting

December 10, 2010

It seems a lot of the writers I know are also interested in acting, or theatre in general. Certainly, it applies to me. I’ve written plays, even had them produced in a few cases, and I loved it. Writing for theatre, sitting in on rehearsals, the pounding heart of opening night, all of it. And then there’s the onstage side- although I’m fairly sure my acting days are behind me, I do enjoy it.

Really, writing and acting have a lot in common, especially if you’re talking about characterization. In both cases, you’re creating a fictional person; whether through words, or through physical interpretation. To do it right, that means you have to know that character inside and out. Not all the back story and detail necessarily has to come through in the presentation (do I as an audience member need to know that Frank’s favourite colour is magenta?), but you need to be aware of it.

Have you ever been jerked from a performance by a moment of broken character? A limp or accent disappears halfway through, or the soft-spoken gentleman turns loud and boisterous (for reasons that are not related to character development). It’s distracting. It makes us squirm and check our watches and programmes. Good actors keep their character all the way through; they grow and develop, but we never doubt that it’s the same person.

Good writers have to do the same when they create the characters in the first place. It relates back to knowing your characters thoroughly. If you know who these people are, you’ll know how they’ll react, what they’ll try in order to get their way, how they’ll change over the course of the story. Just like actors, you have to know how they move and speak.

More than anything, you need to know how they think. Acting and writing require huge amounts of empathy. The ability to put yourself in another’s shoes is an obvious asset for actors. But writers need it too. Otherwise, how will you explain your villain’s actions beyond “Dude was crazy/evil”? How will you be so sure that your hero(ine) will make that final sacrifice, or alternatively, will fail to make it? To truly see the world through your character’s  eyes, as an actor would, is to make them that much richer and deeper.

Many novelists began as actors or playwrights. Some do double or triple duty. Celebrity authors notwithstanding, that makes a lot of sense. Good characterization, written or performed, requires an interest in people. Where better place to look at people than through live theatre?

-Arvik

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5 comments

  1. I’ve been bitten by the acting bug occasionally, and got the lead in a city-level musical a few years back. A memorable experience.


  2. You’re very right about this, keeping characters consistent and real is extremely important in any fiction. When you pigeon hole a character into doing what you need him/her to do rather than what the character normally would/should do then it becomes obvious to the reader, and often adds an air of inanity to the story that turns the reader off.

    http://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/


  3. Okay, I don’t usually do this but I am going to plug my own blog for a moment. Please check out http://lkramer14.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/show-dont-tell-from-page-to-stage-version/ as you and I have very similar thoughts on the relationship between writing and acting.


    • That was a cool post- I love working with kids and theatre. I also thought the visualization aspect was interesting; when I’m writing “in flow,” I often get the sense of watching a film or play inside my head. Thanks for sharing!


  4. Excellent observations.

    The more successfully we shift our perspective from how we view the world to how our characters (on the page and on stage) view the world, the more effective we become as writers and actors.



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