Monday, September 5, 2011

Acting Out in Your Writing

Coming from a screenwriting background, I always write from a very visual place. My books first come to me (and most others I'm sure) as a movie in my head. I'm not in love with prose. In fact, often I feel that my words--feeble as they usually are--get in the way of my story. When I really feel a character or their journey, my goal as a writer is to stand out of their way and let them live.

One of the things that helps me is to act out my characters. Now, no, you won't find me prancing about my Batcave (that's where I write) with a cloak reciting lines to thin air (I don't know why I would have a cloak, it just sounded appropriate). But I really try to picture actors or put myself in the role. Not just in what they think or their background, but I want to define their mannerisms. How they relate to one another and what that visually looks like.

Today I had a blast watching through some audition tapes of the young actors that are going to be in the movie I wrote "Amazing Love: The Story of Hosea" (title subject to change). The film starts shooting in a couple weeks and I'm really excited to see the finished product. I wrote this a few years ago and, since then, filmmakers Rich and Dave Christiano worked on the script, found a director, and have put this whole thing together. Watching the young actors cast in the movie was a real treat. It was even a little emotional, watching them live out my dialogue. Some of them brought things to the roles that I would have never dreamed of. Their nuance, their acting choices--it showed me a new side to my own characters. What was especially neat was watching one young actress in particular read one of the more tender, emotional scenes. I marveled that she was making all the same nuanced mannerisms that I made while writing it! Perhaps I'm just really in tune with my inner teenage girl, but I felt a real kinship to that performance. That was my character, ripped right from my heart, and on the screen staring back at me.

I think watching the actors has helped my writing process even more. It's given me new things to think about in how people act and the various ways that a single line can be delivered and all the new meanings that arise out of each interpretation.

I'll let everyone know when the movie comes out. It's a far cry from my usual projects--you know, no monsters or disembowelment--but I think you'll like it anyway :p We're hoping to see it out early next year.

For the writers, what are some of the ways you've acted out your characters to better understand your writing? For readers, would it bother you to think of your favorite author prancing about in a cloak reciting dialogue to thin air? :p


DRC said...

Wow! Talk about 'a writer's dream' seeing a piece of their work being made into a film. I really hope it all goes well for you.

I'm exactly the same when I plan my work. I watch it unfold in my head like a film, often when I'm lying in bed waiting for sleep - sometimes that don't come - or if we're travelling somewhere. I see it all in technicolour and 3d. If I could sell tickets I'd make a

But doing this makes writing it so much easier because I already know how to describe such and such etc...

Bruce Hennigan said...

I grew up watching movies and when I began writing way back at age 13, I visualized the story from a movie perspective. Later on in life, I stumbled upon a ministry in drama and my pastor insisted I write every play we performed. I ran that mini try for 15 years. I recall the very fist time I saw my play acted out on the stage to a full audience of 800. I was sitting way up in the balcony in the production booth running the sound effects even though I was director and producer of the film. In fact, at that time I had to do everything but the acting!

I remember watching a "tender" scene as you put it between an estranged father and son. I was all teary eyed and looked over at the audience and there was a real life father/son reunion right there. Oh my! I will never forget the feeling that something I had imagined and God had blessed enough to show up on the stage actually touched someone!

Now, as I write, I visualize each scene from a stage point of view first -- as the intimate interaction between character/actors -- before I visualize it as a movie scene. During that 15 years, I also got into film production for our church producing many short films. So, I use both of these media backgrounds to write. In fact, I tend to write dialogue and stage/scene direction first and then go back and fill in the prose.

And yes, I do act out scenes, usually when I'm driving down the road and I get really strange looks from people when I gesture and look at the empty seat beside me. But, who cares? It's the writing life!!!!

Lena Nelson Dooley said...

We really do need to know when this movie comes out!!

Jillian Kent said...

Hey Greg,
Congrats! Keep us posted, what fun! I always have a movie of my story running in my head. I read bits of dialogue out loud and sometimes I just turn off the sound of a movie and watch the actions of the characters in the movie as I role the tape of my book in my head. Will you get to watch any of the making of the film?

Greg Mitchell said...

Jillian, it's possible that I might be able to go to California for a couple days, but it's really up to my schedule and if there's any room for me--what with cast and an entire film crew all sleeping at the location (it's a campground). We'll see.

Bruce Hennigan said...

You really should try and visit the set. That is something I've always wanted to do. Of course, the way such visits are depicted on television and in the movies, the screenwriter gets no respect. Maybe things will be different with this movie. Congratulations, man! Great stuff!!!

So have you written the screenplay for "The Strange Man"?

Greg Mitchell said...

Bruce, I've been to a set before. It was a lot of fun. Another script that I wrote is supposed to start filming early next year, so I imagine I'll go to that one, too.

And, of course I've written "The Strange Man" script :p ...and ones for the rest of the trilogy too :P

Beth Shriver said...

Congrats, Greg! Keep us informed:)