Writer’s Craft #54 – Borrowed from Acting
James Pailly used to work in film and theatre and now works in television news. He’s been a writer, director, and occasionally—often unwillingly—an actor. His current project, The Tomorrow News Network, is a series of short stories which will appear at tomorrownewsnetwork.com starting January 9th. You can also visit his blog at planetpailly.wordpress.com.
I was never a good actor. I was cast as a dead body twice and a zombie two other times, but what I learned when I wasn’t dead or undead helped improve my writing.
Actors begin getting into character by asking certain questions, such as:
- What does my character want?
- Why does he/she want it?
- What obstacles are in the way?
- How does my character plan to overcome them?
Writers can ask these questions too, not just for one character but for all of them.
Many actors also draw upon life experiences, reliving good or bad memories during a performance to add emotional impact. Most of us have never stood on a new planet, fought epic space wars, or gone drinking with Chewbacca at the Star Wars Cantina. But we’ve all felt joy, fear, or comradery at some point.
My acting friends tried to teach me—unsuccessfully—to tap those memories, but stage fright made it too hard. Sitting alone with a pen and paper is different. It’s easier to go back to the best and worst days of my life and let them seep into my words.
What ideas have you borrowed from other fields to improve your writing?