Tag Archives: dialogue

Can Acting Help You Create Memorable Characters

actors

Whether I’m writing a comic, a blog post or a screenplay, the cornerstone of my writing remains the character.

From the very first moment you welcome your reader, and he reads your first paragraph, you want to make sure he knows:

  1. Whose story is it?
  2. What’s happening around the character?
  3. What’s at stake for the character?

This is because, from Shakespeare to Ibsen, the whole idea of dramatic writing revolves around the character: The one we root for, and the one who moves the story along with its actions.

But building character for fiction requires a deep understanding of human motives. A knowledge I had no access to until I shifted my perspective to a more experiential approach: That of embodying characters myself.

That of Acting.

And it changed me, it made me more aware of human dynamics. From the very first moment I started reading Lee Strasberg, Stanislavski and Grotowski, I noticed the similarities between my career as a psychologist, dramatic writing and those stories I wanted to create. 

But the real question is: Can acting work for you and your fictional characters as it worked for me?

Even without knowing you, and whether you suffer from stage fright or no. I do believe a short acting workshop can help you breathe life into your characters.

Here’s why.

Acting is a space for practice and creativity

Think of acting as a playground for discovery. Your own.

Acting will help you find your voice and it will give you a thorough understanding of your body language. All of this, on a playful and safe environment.

In this controlled space, you’ll have the opportunity to test, propose and create with others. It’s human interaction at its best.  

When you get back to your writing space, you will find how the relationships and interactions between your fictional characters become more natural and innovative.

Acting can teach you how to show, don’t tell

Regular conversations might sound like this:

“I’m sad;” “I don’t want to be here;” “I’m about to cry.”

I know, it sounds dramatic, but it has nothing to with dramatic writing. These are real life examples, yet you’re writing fiction. And since there’s no emotional value behind those phrases, we’re taught as writers to show and never tell.

Acting is no different. That means dialogue remains an extension of action. For example, a good actor on a good play wouldn’t tell the audience he’s about to commit suicide; no, we would see the signs: the gloomy tone of his voice, his gaunt appearance, his vacant stare and saggy posture. The way he thinks of life and the places he visits on a regular basis.

He’s hinting us. He’s suggesting and planting an idea. And we follow him along because we want to know if he’s going to survive or not. He’s in control.

That’s the power of character.

Acting teaches you to put yourself out there

Ok, all of this whole acting thing might sound promising. But what if you have stage fright? Or, you are self-conscious about your body, or your voice, or the way others look at you…

Just… don’t freak out. I feel you.

See, I’m an introvert. I like to read, spend time on my own, and sometimes too much social interaction can leave me heavily drained. Yet I’m so comfortable with myself that I can give a speech, act or sing in front of an audience –without fainting.

I had to learn that from scratch though. And acting helped me a lot.

Before acting I was afraid of looking at people in the eye. I was insecure. I didn’t know what to do with my body, how to move or whether to smile or not. I felt people would just laugh or criticize everything I did. But even when I forgot my lines, or made a mistake, I would just try again.

I didn’t die.

And that’s a huge lesson for us writers and aspiring authors. Acting teaches you to put yourself out there. It will help you with your pitching and that arrogant publisher. You will become more in control of yourself. And that confidence will translate into your writing. You will suddenly become less self-conscious about what you produce and you won’t feel afraid of being vulnerable.

Should you take acting classes?

I don’t think acting is for everyone, and I’m not encouraging you to pursue an acting career. But I do believe that it can critically improve your writing.

It worked for me, and my screenwriting feels more natural ever since.

Even if it doesn’t improve your writing you will have some fun, you will find an alternative way to express yourself creatively, and you will exercise too. Besides you can meet some interesting people in your classes –they could even end up as potential characters for your fiction book.

If you liked the article feel free to share it. Or, if you have any questions about acting and writing you can leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to help.

Happy writing –and acting.

Dan

Find me on my blog Fourth Walled

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Dan de Abreu is dedicated to helping  others aspiring authors while studying the relationship between psychology and writing.
He holds a BA in psychology and  works as a copywriter, screenwriter, and comics writer.
His longtime goal is writing scripts for his own animated short films.
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Karl Taylor: My Thoughts on Dialogue

For me, the number one rule for writing dialogue is to keep it interesting. You don’t want your readers just skipping the dialogue hoping to find something more interesting. So you should leave out things like:

Char 1 “Hi.”

Char 2 “Hi.”

Char 1 “How are you?”

Char 2 “I’m fine. How are you?”

        Your reader’s mind will immediately shut this ordinary noise out and move on to find the next interesting action. Maybe you could liven things up a bit?

Char 1 “Hi.”

Char 2 “Oh, it’s you.”

Char 1 “I see you haven’t changed much.”

Char 2 “Unfortunately, neither have you.”

        You see immediately that these two have a history and it’s a stormy one. Immediately you wonder why they don’t like each other and it pulls you into the dialogue, hoping to discover what caused these feelings.

        Secondly, but just as important, the dialogue must sound realistic for that character, the mood he’s in and fit the situation. Someone who is ordinarily prim and proper and well-spoken won’t walk into an office for an interview with someone they don’t know and say, “Hey there jackass! How they hanging? I’m here ‘bout that job I saw posted.” The dialogue must fit the character and you must keep it consistent throughout the story.

        Situations will change dialogue. Formal situations like black tie parties or funerals tend to keep the language more formal too. Hanging out with close friends, drinking on a Saturday night will change the dialogue as well. The character’s mood also has a profound effect. If they just came from the funeral for the main character’s mother the dialogue will be much different than if it’s a bachelor party the night before his wedding.

        Thirdly, the dialogue should serve a purpose. It should move the story forward or provide some important information for the reader. You don’t want your character walking through a busy office and write the whole, hi, how are you, I’m fine, how are you, business with everyone in the office. Unless one of these meetings is important to the story, you’d be better off just saying, He greeted all his fellow workers on the way to his cubicle.

Dialogue can serve to show conflict as well:

Char 1 “Hey Samantha.”

Char 2 “What the hell do you want?

Char 1 “Is that any way to talk to an old friend?”

Char 2 “You’re not a friend Johnny.”

There’s no doubt that Samantha doesn’t like Johnny. You can also slip in some exposition:

Johnny “We grew up as neighbors Samantha. We’ve known each other all our lives.”

Samantha “You ruined all that when you screwed my sister and then left her alone to raise the baby.”

        Another thing I want to leave you with is that you should never have long strings of uninterrupted dialogue. It can become dull or confusing as to whom is speaking unless you have Johnny said or Samantha said after every quote. So you should interject little moments of silence now and then.

Johnny “Do you agree with me or not Samantha?”

Samantha “I have a few more questions.”

Johnny “Questions? I’ve talked to you about this until I’m blue in the face!”

Samantha “I don’t know.”

Samantha threw down the box she was holding and walked away.

Johnny “What is it Samantha?”

Samantha “I hate you.”

You can have long conversations but you need to take a breath now and then.

        Lastly, you need to go back and read it out loud to yourself or have someone else read the lines out loud with you. If it doesn’t sound natural when you read it out, then it probably won’t sound natural to the reader either. Polish it up until it feels right. The details make the difference.

        Everyone has their own way of doing things and I don’t presume to be the “dialogue master” but hopefully something I said might prove helpful to you. Good luck with your writing.