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Act out to create vivid scenes

When my cousin Gayle and I were kids, our idea of a good time was making up stories and acting them out. Sometimes we were spies and we had to slink around her house. We’d crawl under the coffee table and around the couch pretending that none of the adults who were sitting there could see us. I think we actually believed it at the time. Maybe it was true. Or just the adults ignoring us.

Since then, as a writer, I’ve often thought about the idea of acting out a scene to make it more real and vivid when I put the words down on the page. It worked to draw a scene out, so why not act it out? (See my post, How drawing can help you become a better writer).

I’d never heard anyone else suggest acting out a scene until now. I was reading an article in “Native Peoples” magazine last week about the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) MFA program in which Sherman Alexie is a faculty member. Alexie is author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, and numerous other stories, novels, and poem.

In the article, the writer relates how Alexie instructs the class about the value of acting out scenes and advises a student to stand behind a door while another student tries to drag him out. Alexie says that simulating the events and trauma a character experiences allows descriptions to become much more accurate and vivid. I could also imagine that acting out a scene could help a writer map out logistics and order in which actions take place.

Do you ever have a scene that feels stiff or flat on the page? Try stepping away from your computer and into the world of your characters. Speak the dialogue, imagine the action, and see what happens next.

For another take on how to write vivid scenes, read Carol’s post, Use images in a scene to ground your readers.

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