Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Method Writing

I have been writing today. I am working on a part of the character arc of my main character. It has been emotionally draining. You see, the only way I know to write characters is to find them inside myself, and this particular scene means drawing on some intense personal emotions. 

Maybe I should explain that a bit. I believe the only authentic characters a writer writes are those drawn from the personality of the writer. I discover characters inside of me. If I didn't, then I couldn't write them. Either that or I would base them on other fictional characters and just be derivative. That doesn't mean every character is factually autobiographical. What it means is that every character shares something with me whether it is a good trait or a bad one. It may even be a bad tendency that I keep in check.

It's kind of like the actor who tries to find authentic emotions within his or her own life. If they are to portray someone who is grieving a loved one, they go back and remember a time when they lost someone close to them and use those emotions to inform the character they are playing.

So it is with me and writing characters. I find those emotions within me. They may have a different source than that of my character. For instance, I might not have solved a murder, but I've solved a puzzle and that shares some of the same emotions. I might not fear for my life from a killer on my trail, but I have feared for my life in a car crash. So, I tap into the emotions I had at those times.

But, you say, what about the villains? Indeed, what about them? Don't you have a bit of villainy in you? I may not have stolen anything, but I've wanted to do so. I can remember that desire and simply remove the moral component which kept me from doing so. I have not killed, but I have believed that certain people would make the world a better place by leaving it. The fact that I don't believe that it is my job to arrange for that exit, doesn't change the emotion.

The scariest villains are the ones we understand. When I see myself reflected in the eyes of the monster and I know that just a few different decisions and I would be the one doing those terrible things is much scarier than the villain who does bad things without any seeming purpose.

This brings us to an important part of method acting. It's finding motivation. Why does this character do what s/he does? Once the actor understands that portraying that person authentically becomes easier.

The same is true of writing a character. In each scene I must not ask "what does this character do?" I must ask "what does this character want to accomplish and why?" When I answer that question, then I know what the character is going to do. It will make sense to me, and, if it makes sense to me, it will make sense to my reader.

By taking myself into the character, I hope to bring authenticity to my writing.

What are some ways you create authentic characters? Chat about it below.


Rhobin said...

Interesting article, Terri. I enjoyed reading it. Part of authorship is realizing how much of yourself you give away, for as you say, everything you write is a part of you.

Larion aka Larriane Wills said...

interesting. i think it relates to a discussing we had on one of the loops the other day as to why some of us don't write vampire, were stories etc even though we enjoy reading them. my comment was that i didn't have trouble getting into them in watching or reading, but that i couldn't get myself into them as i was writing.

Terri main said...

Larraine, I think that would be true for me as well. If I did write a vampire story,it would be more of a science fiction rather than an undead thing. Like a race marooned on earth that had a symbiotic relationship with another race on their home planet. They drank the excess blood of the other race. But they are lost on earth and don't realize at first that we don't have excess blood. Some adapt and use animal blood. Others don't care and consider humans inferior creatures. That sort of thing.