How my Theater Background Helps My Writing: Characterization

Sometimes, I wish more writers would take up acting as a past time…even take a simple course or two.  I recently read a book that made me actually utter this out loud.  I’m not going to name the book, or its title…(but if you want to venture a guess, then by all means go ahead 😉 )

Yes, my first college major was Theater, with a heavy concentration in dance.  Even after changing my major, I went on to participate in community theater productions (musicals, mostly).  Can I just say I have an absolute loathing for the old-school broadway musicals?  they’re all formula fiction…they’re cheesy….I hate most of the music…

Anyhow, that’s part of what lead me to divulge myself further into writing, and abandon all theatrical endeavors.  I wanted to play X-type of roles; not Y.  I wanted to bring to life Midieval duchesses, mermaid queens, faerie princesses trapped in our unmagical world…Not “hotbox dancers,” chorous girls, 5o’s teeny-boppers, etc…

I didn’t want to be in another formulated “goody-two-shoes girl meets badboy with heart” production, when there were WORLDS of other stories out there with more substance that weren’t based on any sort of formula…

Ever since then, I’ve applied acting (and even directing) techiques to my work.  I put myself–fully submerge myself–into a character.  I think like an actor.  I imagine myself portraying each character on stage, in film…etc…Would she do/say?  What is his motivation?  How would she sit/stand?  What are this character’s nervous quirks? 

I take everything used to portray the character, and pour it out in the form of the written word (as opposed to acting it out).  I know a lot of writers create character sheets, and that is great too. 

Here is another simple excercise to try:  If you’re alone for an hour or 2, with no distractions, take a scene (preferably an important one) from your current writing project.  Rehearse the role of your protagonist (or even antagonist if you want to).  Rehearse it as if it were a stage or film production for a while.  Keep practicing.   If you have a video camera, or anything…then tape yourself.  Watch your performance.  Look at your gestures, facial expressions, your gait…listen to your tone of voice. 

Incorporate all of that into what you are writing…

Seriously, I’ve done this and I feel it really helps with character development.  When I first developed the characters for Prophecies of Fire, I’d practice the dual roles of Morrigan and Beliah for hours.  My very own Odette-Odile.


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