Thursday, April 9, 2009

Method Writing

I remember taking an acting class many years ago and being told to feel everything you can about your character, to get inside their head and feel as much as you can through their eyes. Naturally, I've read a lot of writers deliver their own interpretation to this idea: "Oh, well, it's not MY book, it's the characters. THEY tell the story."

A few years back, after years of rolling my eyes, I started believing as much as I could into my characters. In truth, I did three things I believe have helped my writing considerably.

1. I imagined being the character.
2. I read my prose out loud to someone.
3. I stopped worrying about the nitty gritty.

#3 is what I want to last comment on. I have read so many books by professionals talking about active voice, be 'immediate', start your book with a hook, instant instant instant! Don't hop heads, don't put too many character names in one sentences. Of course...the list could go on and on, but I believe it's all a bunch of bull. If you successfully enter your character's mind, a story will develop naturally.

Though I am almost always anti-advice when it comes to all things writing, I think this is broad enough to be slightly helpful.

Who really knows for sure...


  1. I agree with you to a point. I ignore the nitty gritty on the first draft. I just write the story without worrying too much about anything. It is in revisions and edits that I worry about the other "rules" of writing. That's where a lot of the great writing happens for me because I already have that story down, if that makes sense. :D

  2. Yes, character is absolutely the single most important thing in a story. But I think these are not mutually exclusive things. I think you can (should!) have a well-imagined, realistic character AND a good opening hook. And everything else: the nitty-gritty stuff should fall into place, too. I know, I know. Easier said than done, but that is what I think.

  3. I agree with both Lady and Diane. I guess I just wanted to 'understate' the idea of the 'nitty gritty' (i.e.- sentence structure, repetitions, tagline mania) because of how 'overstated' it's become. I've read stories that started out as stream-of-consciousness potential gems and see them, week after week, get bitten at until it resembles The Old Man's fish in The Old Man and the Sea.

    But you both are absolutely right with what you said.

  4. I think if I listened to some of my characters I'd be in big trouble :-D

    All kidding aside, I totally agree. While my writing is very plot driven, there are lots of times when I have changed middles, ends, and even characters based on what happened with another character. I've had characters change sex (no knives involved), other characters disappear (still no knives involved), and even new characters suddenly appear during scenes with one of my characters. If done well, it can really give life to your work.

  5. IMO, #3 is for revising. Strictly revising. I do find that most of my character's emotions and movements come during this phase. I'm too far involved in their POV during the first draft portion to accurately portray that.

    But I do agree with you all. :) Excellent post.

  6. Your post brings to mind how my kids play pretend. They are totally into the character: voice, gestures, ... I get jealous of their ability and wish that I were a kid again, to pretend and to be someone else. Sometimes the magic happens when writing. Thanks for the reminder of what's so important.

  7. Yes, Patrick, I agree. I didn't mean to sound negative in my earlier comment. Imagining yourself in the persona of a character, and paying attention to what you "hear" is the best way to discover the story problem, the character motives, and even plot.


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