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The Act of Method Writing May 3, 2012

Posted by mattfarmer in writing.
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You have all heard of method acting. If an actor needs to portray an emotion in a scene, and they need to sell the emotion, make it believable, then that actor remembers a time when they felt that particular emotion. They put themselves into that head space, relive that emotion as vividly as they can, and then bring it out into their performance.

The same method can and should be used when writing. Sure, I don’t know what it is like to be in a sword fight, battle dragons or fly a spaceship, but those things are decorations hung upon the characters; shiny baubles that a character who has invested emotions, uses to complete, stuff. Awesome spaceships and sword fights are not what should grab the reader by the mind and heart and hook them into your world. Unless that space ship is the Millenium Falcon, and the sword fight is from The Princess Bride.

While no story is original any more, and if you break every story and movie down you can get to the seven basic plots, or 36 dramatic situations, or look at them from a mono-myth point of view, it is invariably the characters who keep you wanting more. I wanted to be Indiana Jones, he was so cool, suave and didn’t take not s…tuff from sword wielding bad guys. I wanted to be as hard-core as the Colonial Marines from the movie Aliens, or the nobody who done good, like Luke Skywalker, Alex Rogan or Tristan Thorn.

And in the same way, a part of me wants to be the characters in my books which I write. I invest a part of me into making the characters someone who I might want to be, so they feel more than just a cut out waiting for the token good guy or bad guy to put them down. I know some psychologist could have a field day with that admission, but I am quite sure that all the successful writers, and all of us who are not (yet) successful, and who write for the love of writing, we create worlds and characters whom we would want to be, where we would like to live and have adventures.

So then, it is the next step to give the characters and worlds you have created, that extra part of you. If you want to put the character into a situation and have it carry weight, emotional investment, if you want the reader to care as much as you, then you really do need to rip that heart off your sleeve and put it on the page for a moment.

There have been times when I have written that I am teary eyed afterwards. In my science fiction series, yet to be published, there is a scene where I kill off two characters. I do it in suitably spectacular fashion by having them trapped in a space station which crashes to the planet below, but the scene takes place inside, with just the two of them, together.

The two characters are, of course, in love. He is an ex-history professor from a prominent university. (He is named after my best friend, a little tribute I gave to to my friend, since he complained he would never be in a book or film). And she was an old student of his, now a notorious space pirate and wanted in more systems than she has fingers on her hands. But for that scene, I had her say things to him, which I never actually got to say to my friend. My friend tragically passed away, well before his time was due, suddenly and without warning. I took myself back and thought- what would I have said to him, if I had known? And so, I put that into that scene. Polished and edited, of course, but, not by much. It was the first time, I believe, that I had ever done that. Ever remembered an emotion, a time when I was in that space, and put the words onto a page. There is, of course, many things you never do get to say to someone before they pass, but in some way, I got to say a few of them in a book, which was nice.

Not many people have read that scene, and that is a deliberate thing, since it was hard for me to write. But those that have, commented to me that they too, felt the loss of the character. It stands as one of the best things I have written.

Last night I finished re-writing my novel. I made the final scene raw and emotional, people dying, fighting, surviving. It was a real head spin to write. I deliberately stayed up late, deliberately was over tired, and sick with flu, but it got me into that head space. And, it was easier this time around than last time. I could put myself into the space of someone deeply in love, someone losing a friend, someone afraid of death. All of those emotions, in the one scene. Of course, knowing I went there while writing, I hope that when it is read the reader feels the same. I hope the reader can feel the love between the two main characters. I hope they feel the loss, the fear. If they do, then that is a win for me.

I am 10 novels into my writing career, and I am just learning to not be afraid of method writing. I am learning to have the courage of putting more and more of me on to the page. It is a scary things, but I do encourage people out there to not only imagine, not only create, but to feel, when you write.



1. tonyakerrigan - May 3, 2012

I do that in some of my scenes too, just put it all out there. It’s kind of like therapy if you think about it.

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