Writing is Acting

In really entertaining fiction, the writer gives the reader a vivid picture of events as they occur through what his characters see, feel, and think. Creating this vivid fictional experience is exceptionally difficult–so difficult in fact that many commercially successful novels succeed in spite of lacking this riveting “deep perspective” experience to the reader. I’m talking about the difference between:

Adam felt enraged. Blake hadn’t won but he thought he had.

And…

His pulse pounded in his veins. His face and chest clenched into a vise. I’ll get that prick, oh yes I will. Look at that smirk on Blake’s face. He actually thinks he’s won.

See the difference? In the first we’re told what happened with all kinds of narrative distance. In the second we experience the event (whatever it may be, I just winged this one) as it feels to Adam, and hear some of his thoughts. It gives us a lot more of an immediate experience and reveals a lot more character.

The beauty of this approach is that stories gain nuance when we only observe from one characters POV at a time. If we only have access to what they know/see/feel/hear/think in that moment it leaves a lot out… And all that which is unobserved, not considered, not thought of, could bite them in the butt in the end. It creates a tension and presents opportunities for characters to misunderstand each other, misread situations, and so on.

I doubt there are many writers who would argue with the above. Mostly, I imagine, writers struggle with tapping into their characters and delivering that deep immersion experience.

Creating an immersive experience of your characters and story world is done by acting. In other words, you put yourself in your characters shoes.

Try this. Pick a character and think about everything you know about them. Good. Now, close your eyes and focus all your attention on that character: their likes, dislikes, fears, features, ticks, possessions, goals, etc. Imagine yourself slowly becoming that character. If they have a dog, so do you; If they have coffee at the artsy place on the corner of 3rd and Thomas every Thursday morning to hobknob with the hippies, so do you; If their nose is crooked from a fight they got into with their sister when they were you, seen it on your face. Become them. Now, imagine their bedroom, and them asleep in their bed (or cot, or bed roll, whatever). Dive into them as a spirit fills the husk of a body. Then animate them. As your physical eyes remain closed, open the eyes of your character in your head. Lay there in that place and look at the ceiling. Listen to the sounds around you. Do any thoughts come to you? Rise from the bed and look around your characters room. How is it adorned? Walk from the room and explore the world you (the character) live in.

This is a basic exercise which can be applied in any scene or setting and with any character. If your character is in battle, dive into his body and observe the conflict through him. When you return to yourself, write what you discovered.

In my reviews of other writer’s work, the greatest challenge a talented writer faces is really crafting scenes and interactions through the actual experience of the characters involved. This is probably because sometimes we writers focus on what needs to happen (plot) more than we address how it happens. In many ways that sort of writing is just mannequins going through the motions prescribed by the author.

You know you’re falling prey to the clinical detached form of writing in you encounter in your writing the words felt, feel, thought; Or, if you find yourself narrating events, rather than describing them intimately from within your characters.

What other techniques do you use to make your writing visceral and immediate? I’d love to hear about them! Comment below!

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