Why Writers Should Take an Acting Workshop

June 10, 2010

I had the opportunity to sit in on an acting workshop this weekend. Admittedly, I was none-to-happy about having to sit through nine hours of watching young children learn to act. It sounded agonizing, but my son really wanted to do it.

I’m so happy I did.

For the past week or two, I’ve struggled with my WIP. I’d been writing, rearranging, cutting, pasting, editing and re-writing the same 15,000 words. I was stuck.

Then, on Friday night, I sat through the first two hours of the workshop. The teacher, Winnie Hiller, was a well-known LA-based acting coach, who made a name for herself in the 80’s playing ditzy commercial characters.

The first part of the night was dedicated to what to expect during auditions. Practical stuff. I took few notes and messed around with my iPhone.

But then, Winnie began discussing the process of getting into character. Of thinking like the character and allowing yourself to feel their feelings. Now she was speaking my language – but one I had forgotten. While writing my first book, I immersed myself in my character’s emotions – I knew her inside and out. I understood why she made the decisions she did and could predict with accuracy how she’d react to things. Often, when writing an emotional scene, I’d find myself crying.

My experience with the characters in my WIP has been completely different. I knew what I wanted them to do and have spent hours and hours fighting against what they want to do. All because I felt like the story needed to go in one direction – even if that direction wasn’t allowing my characters to grow.

I went home that night and let my characters – especially my male character – speak to me. Like Winnie Hiller suggested, I examined his motivation and tried to understand what his realistic reaction would be. And wouldn’t you know it – whole scenes started pouring out of me. Scenes that I would never have considered before because they didn’t fit my vision of the story.

Another great piece I took away from the workshop is the importance of reading dialogue out loud. This is something I tend to do already. However, I never understood how the dialogue could completely change the way I viewed a scene.

For example: “I could give it to her.”

When you read it out loud, where do you place the emphasis? Are you saying it more like a question? Is it a snotty comeback? By reading it out loud, you could possibly open a whole new direction in the manuscript. What you thought was a sweet sentiment, may come out sounding snarky when you read it as the love interest.

I spent last night reading back key pieces of dialogue and I’m happy to report, I found many new story lines I didn’t know existed – plots about sweaters, skateboards and the desire to fit in. Things my characters knew the whole time, but I was too stubborn to listen.

So go on, act out with your characters. You’ll be happy you did.

P.S. Special thanks to Jaime Reed, unofficial writing psychologist, for getting me to see I need to make it honest.

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