Now that I’m studying Voice Acting, I find myself revisiting Stanislavski, the great acting teacher’s work. Years ago, I adapted his techniques for writing and applied them successfully in both my writing and my teaching. Three of his techniques are staples and I wanted to share them with you.
1. The magic “What If?”
When developing a character, instead of writing a character biography, try comparing what you would do in the situations you’re creating, with what you want your character to do. What you can establish is an understanding of the characters on a deep emotional level, because you’re putting “skin in the game” – your own feelings.
The key is to apply this comparison literally, not only when you’re writing a drama but also if you’re writing a genre piece such as a murder mystery or a broad comedy. No matter what the genre, a good story is based on a character’s journey from problem to success.
In my newest project, the character is a dynamic, but innocent teacher. I’m certainly not innocent! When writing her, I can use my worldly point of view and how I’d respond to understand what she wouldn’t do, because I can compare her to myself. This makes it easy for me to picture her in some of the whacky situations she finds herself in.
2. Finding the character’s motivation
When writing dramatic literature, we have limited ability to express a character’s inner thoughts. Characters, like their human counterparts, are complex and often have more than one reason why they behave the way they do.
I use the axiom, “character is behavior,” to overcome the frustration that the script form brings. By having the character take action, I can reverse engineer the levels of complexity, and find ways to use visual metaphors and dialog to create depth in a story.
This is another reason why the magic “What If?” is so important. I can remember a “real life” situation where I’ve behaved in a certain way, and by analyzing my physical actions, recover the emotional state I was in. Then, I can return to my story and refine what my characters say and do. This leads to the third technique I use.
3. Emotional memory
When you’re stuck as to how a character would feel in a situation, you can look for a similar situation in your own life that generated feelings. By recovering this memory, you can identify, and then transfer the feeling that this experience generated, for example, laughter or tears, to the current scene you’re working on. A note of caution here: this is not intended to solve any of your problems, or even dredge them up for you to “work through” or resolve. This technique is intended only to create better writing.
In conclusion, not only do I suggest using these ideas and reading at least one of his books, An Actor Prepares, but also that you take an acting or improv class to improve your understanding of how the characters you create will be portrayed by actors when your script is produced as a film or TV pilot.
Here’s to your successful writing!
Professor Marilyn Horowitz