You may not believe it, but acting, theater, and writing can actually have a lot in common. You all have to keep your audience engaged, you have to tell a story, and you all have your ways to do it. Finding out how those ways coincide is a great way to find more perspectives to better your practice.
I’d recommend researching theater and acting to help your writing! Here are the similarities that I’ve found useful thus far:
Getting into character
Actors and writers alike have to get into the mind of their character in order to portray them convincingly. Both will go to great lengths to figure it out, because the worst that can happen to either is that their character comes off as flat.
Did you know that actors sometimes create back stories for the character they’re playing if that character hasn’t already been provided one? Sounds a lot like writing! Actors aren’t just portraying the character and the lines they speak when they get on that stage, they have to build up that character’s background in order to understand how to carry themselves when they say “action!”
Another way actors get into character is by something called method acting, where the actor is supposed to act in the personality of their character, without switching to who they really are. In other words, they can’t break character!
I think we can all say that while writing a story from any character’s perspective, you’re in a zone where you’re not yourself anymore. You have to be your character, think how they’d think, speak how they’d speak. You’d never write anything the way you’d experience it, because that’d be breaking character.
A couple interesting articles about method acting and creating back story for actors:
Knowing how to mimic (or write) natural reactions
Actors don’t just read lines off a page, they have to communicate all kinds of things all at once, along with the lines on the page. Emotions, state of being, even location. The way an actor would say the same line would differ if the character was sad, or out of breath from exercising, or in a library. Otherwise they’ll break the illusion. They’d no longer be the character in the scene, they’re just a person playing a role.
Have you ever seen people on TV hold their breath when they dive under water, and subconsciously, you stop breathing too? You feel with them so much, you almost feel like you can’t breath, yourself. Now, they aren’t really in any danger of drowning, they’re not really trapped like they seem to be in this particular scene. But as they thrash and you see the bubbles coming from their mouth, you really feel like they’re going to drown, and you’re so captured in the scene, you feel like you’re there with them.
And the minute they come up for air (wait for it…) you let out a breath you didn’t know you were holding.
As writers, we have to communicate many things at once as well, and it’s not as easy as just using dialogue to say, “gee, it’s hot out here!” This teeters off into the whole “showing, not telling” thing, but I prefer to say work on submerging your character in the scene, however way is necessary. Let your characters sweat and pant, let us feel their dying thirst, the weakness in their knees and the tremble in their hands. Now we really understand how they feel when they say it’s hot out. It really is hot out, because we can feel it now.
This goes for emotional responses too! An actor knows what kind of natural reaction they have to mimic in order for you to understand how the character is feeling, without outright saying it. If they’re short with their responses and constantly pursing their lips, we get the impression that they’re mad or irritated. If the character is clenching their fists and a tear slips down their taut face, we can feel the crippling frustration along with them.
Try to take note of these visual cues that the actor is letting you feel next time you’re watching a movie, you might be able to borrow a couple reactions/actions for your next scene!
Movies may have CGI and other special effects, but it still has its limitations. For one, most only last an hour and a half, maybe two to three hours at best. Any lapse of time has to be understood by visual cues and context of conversation, and the entire length of the story has to fit into that time line. Writing a book may be tough work, but you know you have at least a few days worth of your reader’s attention to bring about a beginning, middle, and end. I’m sure just reading aloud three chapters of whatever you’re writing takes more than a half hour right there!
But that’s why movies have to use creative means to show the entire story within their time constraints. They use dialogue to quickly convey important information, make things happen to speed along the plot, use scene cuts to skip unnecessary lengths of time and get on with the story. Every minute counts, so only the very necessary scenes can stay.
As writers, these skills are a necessity. That’s what makes page turners, when every word, every paragraph, every chapter is there for a reason. That’s why we cut the unnecessary bits in editing, just like how film makers edit long scenes and, cut them up, and make movies that leave you at the edge of your seat.