[The artist’s] job is not to present merely the external life of his character. He must fit his own human qualities to the life of this other person, and pour into it all of his own soul. The fundamental aim of our art is the creation of this inner life of a human spirit, and its expression in an artistic form.
~CONSTANTIN STANISLAVSKY in An Actor Prepares.
In Getting into Character, Brandilyn Collins says writers share with actors the basic means of achiving it: observation.
From the very first, actors are taught to observe. Like actors, we must be ardent students of human nature. We must watch people, take mental notes, become armchair psychologists of human interaction.
Here’s a brief look at the acting secrets we’ll adapt and how they can transform your writing.
Secret # 1: Personalizing.
An actor has only one body to portray many characters. How does he or she make each character unique?
Through personalizing, you can create characters so distinctive that their traits and mannerisms become a critical component of the plot itself.
Here are the steps to the secret of personalizing.
Step 1. Begin a line of questioning with your character and pursue it until you ‘hit bottom’ [so what?]
Step 2. The final ‘So what?’ question will reveal a core truth or ‘inner value’ about your character.
Step 3. In turn, this inner value will give rise to a trait.
Step 4. Then pursue this line of questioning even further to see if you can hit bottom a second time.
Step 5. If you can hit bottom again, you will discover a specific mannerism based on the inner value.
Secret #2: Action Objectives.
Before writing a scene, an author should first determine the action objective of each character.
Desire is the novelist’s equivalent of Stanislavsky’s super-objective.
In discovering your character’s desire, note these three important points:
1. The desire must be stated in terms of an active verb.
2. The desire must be very specific.
3.The desire must be exactly correct for the character and story.
Secret # 3: Subtexting.
In realistic dialogue, characters will not always say what they mean. Communication often goes far deeper than words, flowing from the underlying meaning, or subtext. The author of Getting into Character gives three guidelines:
Guideline 1: One of these two reasons–not wanting or not needing to state what he’s thinking–must apply to a character’s motivation in order for subtexting to be considered in your dialogue.
Guideline 2: If the scene depicts an ongoing conflict, subtexting may be appropriate; however, a major turning point for change often demands honesty.
Guideline 3: The older and/or deeper the conflict, the more likely that subtexting will be appropriate.
Secret # 4: Coloring Passions.
When you focus not on the general passion of your character, but on its component parts, its opposite, and its growth, your character will deepen in richness and represent human nature to its fullest.
[bluebox] [Inner Values + Desire] + Conflict = Emotion. [/bluebox]
Secret #5: Inner Rhythm.
When an author begins with inner rhythm and works toward the external, each action, facial expression, and spoken word then illuminates the struggle within. Readers feel the emotion.
Technique 1: By involving your body, you can feel the inner rhythm of your character in a tangible way.
Technique 2: Play psychiatrist with your character, questioning him moment by moment through a scene.
Secret #6: Restraint and Control.
Through restraint and control a novelist learns how to use the best words to flesh out characters, create an aura, and move the scene forward.
There are no absolutes rules, but these additional guidelines will help you create the rhythm you seek.
1. Past participles are best used in quite, easy-rhythm scenes. When action or suspense begins, use regular past-tense verbs.
2. Complex sentences work better in quiet rhythm; simple sentences work better for action.
3. In general, the higher the action level, the shorter your sentences should be.
4. In high action sequences, such as fight scenes, divide the action and reaction into separate sentences or short phraxes within the same sentence.
Secret #7: Emotion memory.
When an author learns how to tap into his emotion memory, he will release himself from every ‘I-can’t-write-that’ fear. The world lies at his feet.
When we learn to access our emotion memory, two wonderful results occur in our writing:
1. We can far more splendidly color the passions of those characters whose experiences are similar to our own.
2. We can create characters who are completely different from ourselves–and perhaps even anathema to our own ways of thinking.
More on creating compelling characters, check out Creating character emotions.