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How one author acts out her writing

As a child, author Randall Platt wanted to be an actress. She wrote screenplays for her favorite western television shows, complete with roles for herself. As an adult, she pursued acting but eventually found that what she really wanted to do is write.

In a workshop at the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference, Platt, award-winning writer of Hellie Jondoeand other YA and adult fiction, shared how her experience as an actor carries over to writing.

Her lessons and tips:

Know your character’s motivation. Every character we create must have reasons for why they do what they do. To understand your characters’ motivation, you need to know their backstory. It shows how they’ll act and react. With each book she writes, Platt creates character sketches that include information about her characters’ religion, family, what they do for a living, their parents, and more. Some writers spend a “day in the life” of their character examining everything the character does. Other authors like to write letters to their characters to understand them.

Acting is reacting. To understand your characters, you must know his or her emotional states – fear, love, hate, anger – to then direct their reactions on the page. Platt urges writers to recognize how their characters react with those emotions. Do they panic, laugh, cry? To add emotional depth to your writing, learn your characters’ full range of emotions and responses.

Timing matters. Skilled actors and writers know the value of timing entrances and exits. Enter a scene as though it’s already begun. You want the curtain to open with characters almost already at one another’s throats, Platt says. Then leave the reader hanging at the end of the section or chapter. These techniques compel readers to turn the page. Every scene has to have rhythm and flow. Don’t let it drag. Make every word count.

Actors move and so should your characters. Characters are your actors and actors use their whole body. They don’t just stand and deliver a line. They gesture, use facial expressions, and stand or sit in different ways. These elements are often better forms of communication than dialogue.

Your reader is your audience. Make them laugh and cry. Watching — or reading – a performance should make your audience feel, or you haven’t done your job.

Set decoration reveals your character. How does your character decorate or set up her surroundings? What is his style? What you surround your characters with tells a story about them. Consider how you can enhance a scene with details that add character depth and meaning.

For more information about Platt and her books, visit her website.

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