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How you can apply method acting to writing

How much do you immerse yourself in your characters’ worlds and emotions? The renowned director and acting coach Constantin Stanislavski was known for his theories of method acting, in which he said actors must learn to think and behave like their characters would. As writers, we can also use his system to create more realistic characters on the page.

A fundamental principle of Stanislavski’s teaching is that the actor must live the life of the character that he portrays. This portrayal isn’t limited to the actor’s stage performance but to some degree overlaps into the actor’s life. Stanislavski believed this is the only way to achieve total realism. To reinforce it,  he said, the actor must also extend this exercise of imagination to include the clothes, the set and the props. If there is a particular prop that is important, the actor must invent a history of who bought it, where it was purchased, and how it ended up in the setting. This then completes the elaborate imaginary world that will lend conviction to the actor’s performance.

Much of the Method process was about creating a realistic portrayal on stage through acute observations of the world. Method coaches taught students to draw on personal experience as well as their imaginations to reveal their characters’ emotions.

While building a character and creating actions on paper (or computer monitors) may not be the same as an actor playing a character’s role, I’ve tried using elements of method acting to build more fully developed characters.

While I might not totally take on the full persona of my protagonist, I’ve taken steps to understand my characters by placing myself in situations where I could observe people who are representative of my characters.

Stanislavski also studied how people acted in everyday life and how they communicated feelings and emotions. Then he emulated that on stage. I’ve observed people of all ages in coffee shops, classrooms, grocery and department stores, malls, and my workplace. Here are several things I note: Body language, including mannerisms and gestures, voice tone, diction, hairstyle, clothing, and shoes.

Novelist John Wray, author of “Lowboy,” set in the New York City subway, rode trains all over the city while writing a first draft on his laptop computer. For almost a year, he often worked for six hours a day in a corner near the conductor’s booth with his headphones on.

Consider your current work in progress. How could you embrace the tenets of method acting to create your story world?

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