Alexa Fernandez explains how acting can help authors with their writing.
A couple of years ago, I auditioned for a play. While I did this to help a friend overcome their shyness, I found a renewed love for performing. I had done a play in high school and auditioned for commercials as a child, but now, as an adult, I had an enormous amount of reverence for this craft.
I decided to take courses with the director of the show while I was doing the show. “Acting is playing,” she would say. As I continued on with my studies, I realized she was right. Acting allows one to exercise creativity. Actors have to not only get into character, but they also have to imagine the scene around them, use props, and most importantly, listen and react to the other actors in the scene.
At one point, I thought it would be better to take a break and write, and my teacher urged me to keep going. She said I would become a better writer if I continued. While I know she was going to benefit from my attendance, she was right. Not only is acting a creative outlet, but the kind of work an actor does is similar to that of a writer. Here are some of the ways in which acting helps a writer.
Acting helps a writer…
Improvisation helps the actor to think on their feet. This tool helps with writing as well. Improvisation in acting is akin to a free-write when writing. It’s great to exercise that creative muscle as often as possible. Acting exercises when one actor speaks with another is a great exercise that helps to create dialogue. It’s also useful for when the writer is alone with their own thoughts.
Actors need to know as much as possible about their characters: appearance, characteristics, likes/dislikes, and their history. A writer has to know this as well. What is this person like? When we were in class, we were often told we were creating a person. A person is more tangible than a character. There is more depth, more gravity to a person than to a flat character.
Stage a scene
Actors have to examine a scene and tell a story similar to how a writer does. The actor gets to show visually with props and costumes; the writer gets to show figuratively, in words. There’s a common phrase in writing: “Don’t tell me, show me.” A reader doesn’t want to be told everything by the writer. They want to have it revealed, either in dialog or descriptions. The reader can come to their own conclusions without having to be led all the time.
Tell a story
When I write, I’m a lot more confident about where the story is going, because I learned to create the ending long before I’ve even reached it. Every actor has an objective. In acting, an objective means “what you want.” When a writer knows their characters’ objectives, it drives the dialogue, scene settings, and endings for each story. It may be the single-most important tool for a writer to utilize.
Create a history for their characters
Part of character development is creating a history for one’s characters. Where did they grow up? What do they like to do? When were they born? Do they have siblings? The more the writer or actor knows about their characters, the more they know how to deal with certain situations.
Objectives help the actor realize what they want, and it also lets the actor know what their character will do when it doesn’t happen. This, in turn, creates tension.Tension also allows the writer to show the reader where the story is going, who the protagonist is, and what the protagonist is up against.
Often, writers are either afraid to show their work or are afraid to take chances in your work. Actors are used to having to take a chance, first with auditions, then with performing in front of an audience. Actors are constantly pushed to their limits and forced to be uncomfortable. Acting allows the writer to take risks with their characters and stories and allows the characters to tell the writer where the story is going.
I’ve heard many people talk about how they couldn’t stand in front of an audience and perform because they are introverts. I want to ease their fears by assuring them that many actors are introverts. In addition, performing in front of an audience helps you to knock out the fear you might have about showing your work or receiving criticism. I encourage writers to take at least one acting class in order to enhance their writing skills.
Desiree Lockhart is a 24-year-old woman from New Jersey who has always wanted to live in New York City and become an actress. However, after three years of struggling in Manhattan, she is at a dead-end job, her love life is a disaster, and the closest thing she’s done to acting is to play cartoon characters at birthday parties. The best thing about living in Manhattan is spending time with her best friends, George, a doctor, and Olivia, a talented singer/chef. As Desiree continues to learn from her mistakes, she finds the most important part of her journey is the experiences she has along the way. Rooftop Sunsets & Cocktails is a novel about finding friendship, finding love, and finding yourself.
Alexa Fernandez is the author of Darn Baby!, Thirty Minutes on Third Avenue, The Christmas Tree and her latest, Rooftop Sunsets & Cocktails.