ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Glen Erik Hamilton's debut Past Crimes won the Anthony, Macavity, and Strand Magazine Critics awards for Best First Novel, and was also nominated for the Edgar, Barry, and Nero awards. Publishers Weekly and Library Journal gave Past Crimes starred reviews, and Kirkus called the book "an exciting heir to the classic detective novel". The follow-up in the Van Shaw series, Hard Cold Winter, was published to rave reviews in March 2016 by William Morrow (US) and Faber & Faber (UK).
A native of Seattle, Glen grew up aboard a sailboat, finding trouble around the islands and marinas and commercial docks of the Pacific Northwest. He now lives in California with his family but frequently returns to his hometown to soak up the rain.
You might consider acting the ultimate in extroversion (look at me, world!), and writing the next best thing to being a hermit (if hermits had wi-fi) but the two professions aren’t so far removed.
I caught the acting bug at the age of six, when a kid in my class threw a conniption and I was drafted into the seminal role of “Baby Bear” in our first-grade production of Goldilocks. Complete with papier-mâché bear head. I kept acting – sans bear head – through school, eventually earning a degree in Drama, and another in C-Sci. You can guess which degree didn’t lead to making a living.
When my wife and I moved to California, I gave up acting for writing. But here’s the thing: I probably get as much acting practice now as I ever did. The audience is much smaller – even non-existent – and the venue is often just my own head. But it’s acting preparation nonetheless. Here are a few tips to get deep (Method-deep, man) into your own characters.
Get an inner life:
What does this character want? What do they fear? If you can answer those two questions, you’re well on your way to giving your fictional creations some proper motivations. Dig a little deeper than simple surface reasons like “to make money” or “to avoid going to prison”. What does money represent to this person? What would loss of freedom mean?
For your protagonists and major characters, it might help you to create a short biography for each. While it’s easy to overdo this (I like the freedom to learn about a character while I’m writing, for example), describing their personal history can give you clues to the character’s viewpoint, if their attitudes are too undefined.
Know your lines:
If you’ve ever picked up an actual script (and I mean a theatrical script, not a screenplay), you may have noticed something immediately: There’s almost no direction. Most scripts do not tell you what a character is feeling, or the inflection the actor should give their lines. That’s left for interpretation.
But of course, a good script gives you strong clues. Are a character’s answers to questions clipped? Deliberately ambiguous? Do they talk a lot without ever listening to the other person? For playwrights, it’s all in the dialogue. Plays can be an expert guide in learning to say something without just bluntly stating it – just like real life.
Don’t bump into the furniture:
In rehearsals, actors often wear their character’s costume whenever possible. You move differently in a suit and tie than you do in jeans, walk differently in cowboy boots than in running shoes. What does your character wear, and why? Do they take pride in their appearance, and are the holes in their sweater embarrassing? Are clothes just something to keep them warm?
Aside from their ensembles, think about the character’s health, and their comfort in their own body. Do they fidget? Are they prone to posing? An active seventy-year-old might be much more sprightly than a thirty-something chain smoker, and you can reflect that in how they react to challenges, their willingness to take action, and their optimism.
Waiting in the wings:
Even your one-shot characters, the bartender or the desk clerk, aren’t sitting around killing time until your protagonist walks through the door. While it might not be worth your time to grant them full biographies, at least consider the mood and general outlook of these bit players. And what stage business or idiosyncrasies might help them stand out from the crowd? No small parts, only small paragraphs.
Talk to the balcony:
This might be the most important tip I can offer: Always, always make the time and space to read your work out loud. Not only will you learn more about your character’s individual voices (and whether they sound too similar to one another), you’ll hear the rhythm of the scene. Those characters might combine in harmonious banter or clash in discord, as you require.
As an added bonus, I guarantee that reading your pages aloud will catch many, many typos. Which should be reason enough.
The dramatic conclusion:
I joked earlier about my theater degree never earning me a living, but the honest truth is that it has served me very well, both in my corporate life and in my writing career. Acting – and stagecraft in general – teaches you to engage your audience, to rehearse with intent, and to be comfortable with being in the spotlight. Some authors dread the idea of reading their own work or facing down an expectant crowd of readers (as much as we might crave success). If that’s you, consider taking an acting class. If you’re lucky, you might get to wear a papier-mâché animal head of your very own.
HOW DOES YOUR PROFESSION INFORM YOUR CREATIVITY? TELL US or leave a comment on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a copy of EVERY DAY ABOVE GROUND! (US entrants only, please.)
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