Wednesday, July 20, 2016

How Theatre Has Helped My Writing

If you've followed my blog for a while, you'll know that I'm a character driven reader. I thrive on good character development and if characters are flat and static, I'm usually the first to complain about it. Because of that, my writing tends to be really heavy on the characters. One of the few projects I nearly finished had specialized character archs for each character (there were... five... six?). I had their entire backstories written out. I had it down to their little quirks and mannerisms. 

And this was before I had even started on the plot.

Now how does this connect to theatre?

When I took acting classes a year ago, we went extensively into acting and character work. There were a few things that kind of seem like common sense, but it's surprisingly hard to forget them. It helps us make our characters organic and helps us become the character (I know that's the most theatre thing I can say, I think). As I began to think about writing, I realized at how much of these techniques transfer over to writing. 

The book we used in my theatre class was The Power of the Actor by Ivana Chubbick so I'll be pulling from the methods in that book.

1. Overall Objective

For actors this is a big thing. It's what the character wants from the entire script. 
For example, in Harry Potter Voldemort's overall objective is to kill Harry and become the most powerful and feared wizard (mostly to kill Harry). So the entire series we have Voldemort constantly attempting to kill Harry. Harry on the other hand is trying to destroy Voldemort. I'll be using Harry Potter for most of my examples since it's something that almost everyone knows so I won't risk spoiling it for anyone much.

So when you're writing you should always keep the overall objective in mind and use that to spur your stories on. What does your protagonist want? Is what they're doing in this scene helping that objective? This, of course, changes with each character from protagonist to antagonist to all the side characters in between. What do they want in this book/novella/series?

It's always good to constantly track the overall objective when writing. Make a post it to stick on your computer. If you're using Scrivner put it in your little chapter and scene breakdowns. Just keep it constantly in mind. This is what your characters want, weave your story towards that objective (or against it).

I find this to be, strangely, the hardest thing. I tend to write out of feeling. There's been a couple of times where I've completely broken down a plot for a book, so it's very easy for me to forget the overall objective. 

2. Scene Objective

Now that we've got your overall objective for your characters, let's focus on each scene or chapter. In a script, each scene is something that's to further spur on the plot and the overall objective. But in the scene there's always a separate objective. In Chamber of Secrets there's the sparring scene between Malfoy and Harry. In that scene the scene objective is quite obvious for readers/viewers. Harry's objective in that scene is to beat Malfoy. Malfoy's objective in that scene is to embarrass Harry. Is Harry thinking about how people are being petrified? Yeah, maybe. But in that moment, in that scene, it's about those two and what they want. 

We've all been there. There's this huge final project we have, but for an hour or two we have the objective to get something to eat. That's a scene objective.

When writing chapters, it's good to be clear what the objective for that scene is. What are the readers supposed to get out of it? What do the characters want in that exact scene? And then later, how does that further spur on the overall objective or plot?

3. Inner Monologues


Inner monologues is one of the biggest things you can do to create a great, dynamic character. Everyone thinks differently. Everyone reacts differently. An inner monologue is pretty self explanatory, but in theatre and acting we use inner monologues to make our lines more fluid and organic than scripted. It's all of the subtext. 

When you're writing your characters, you need to constantly be thinking about how your characters think. This solves the telling not showing problem that writers sometimes have. Thinking about the inner dialogue that the character is having is super important. It's also really entertaining. This is how you keep your character from being a trope or an archetype. You give them their own stream of consciousness.

4. Previous Circumstances

Another thing that is rather important. What is the character's status in society? What culture is the character from (very important)? What was the character doing before the book or chapter started? 

These are really good ways to help world build, build a plot, and build great characters. You always think about what happened before. What shaped your characters to be who they are when your readers are introduced to them? This is kind of the reason why I went a little ham on backstories. It's an exaggerated previous circumstance, but it gives me a good idea of who they are when the reader begins their journey. The only thing that's different from stage to writing is that in writing you should probably reveal to the reader at some point what those previous circumstances are. On stage, there's usually a lot left to the imagination.

The Other Parts:

Now I haven't only been acting. I've also been on the side of directing and crew. It made me realize how sound can affect the feel of a scene or a show, how colors and lighting can influence the mood, how wardrobe can mean a thousand different things. These are great things for world building. It's good to keep references for different things. 

I personally listen to certain music to help me write my scenes and characters because it helps me get into the mood and write the right words. I look at pictures and think of how the colors affect how I feel about it and use that to transfer my ideas onto paper.

Words are a powerful instrument. They are colorful, lyrical, and emotional. I've started to think of books and stories like mini shows that I put on, so I go into the tiny components that make this great machine.


This has become a pretty large post haha. I kind of cut it a lot shorter than I would've liked, but there's the biggest chunk of it. Of course you don't have to follow what I say here. These are kind of my own personal takes and personal methods. 

Do you agree? Disagree?
What's your preferred method of writing?