Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Good Actor + Good Director = Good Writer

A good friend of mine, Nofretiri, asked if I would post my views on this question: Does a good writer have to be a good actor to convey all the emotions? And a director, too, for arranging the scenes well?

A short answer is, yes. But of course things are never that simple. There are plenty of rubbish actors that hog our televisions, so perhaps for the first question, more accurate ting would be to say that we have to be able to empathize, and tap into emotions that we have experienced at some point, and apply them to our writing. 

Before you protest that you can't possibly feel what a psychopath might kill murdering his victims - yes, you can. At some point in your life, you have felt all emotions to various degrees. Not necessarily desire to literally kill someone (I hope), but you must have been so angry that it just slips out "I want to kill him/her". Or you are so angry, you do something stupid, or you rage and rant, or you break things. Whatever floats your boat. What we can do is use those emotions - exaggerate them to fit our situation. A normal, angry person just want to slam the door against the wall (guilty!!), a psychopath might want to slam someone's head against the wall.  So you transfer your feelings of slamming the door, to slamming someone's head when you are writing from that psychopath's POV. I don't know about you - but when I slam doors, I feel much better. It releases the anger. So what if that's how a murderer feels when he kills someone?

What if you have never had a child, but you want to write about the joy of having a child or the pain of losing one? Again, use what you have. Perhaps you have lost someone else (even if not by death, by some other means), you exaggerate that feeling, you imagine how much worse it might feel if it's your child, someone you have given birth to, someone who was dependent on you for their well-being. And then you portray those emotions in the scene.

Method acting - putting yourself into character's shoes - is a famous method employed by actors. Writers of course have to be able to do that with more than one character.

This is where the Director comes in. Your creative side is your cast of actors - you use them to get into different characters' head. But we all know actors want the limelight, so without the director to keep them in line, and to make them follow the story, we wouldn't have a book - but rather a bunch of actors showing off. 

The Director is your logical side, the one you use the most when you are editing. The actors might revise their lines, but the director has the final say whether it's good enough or not. It is the skill you need to be able to have a coherent story that other people - those who can't see the vision in your mind - will understand, and be able to see your vision. The actors will work hard here to make the readers feel the emotions they are supposed to feel. The actors focus on their own part, which is important, but the director takes of the bigger picture. 

What do you think? Does acting and directing work for you?


  1. If you take it the other way round: Is every good actor or good director a good writer? I don't think so!

    Like you wrote, a good author needs to have empathy and has to be a good observer of his environment, people, nature, movies, other books, whatever. And I think a well-dosed portion of blooming phantasy is rather helpfull, too.

    As far as I'm concerned, my question is answered - for now! :-) Thanks a lot for your blog post!

  2. No every good actor or director is not a good writer. But we are talking about the principle.
    Most writers for example, might play as actors with their characters but would not like to be in the limelight. They are happy staying in their room, with people in their head.

    So my comparison is only one way - of what we can learn from actors / directors. Their work is quite different, and also their projects are team projects, whereas most books are individual works.

  3. I'd like to quote one of my favorite writers J.R. Ward: "You spent a lot of time alone, when you are a writer, well, put it this way: You're alone, but you're crowded with people at the same time (in your head)."

    btw: Dolly, have you seen that youtube-interview of her? Quite some similar words, right?

    What I wanted to say: I think writing IS teamwork as well, only the people are not impersonated in the real world, but in your head!

  4. Too true, on all counts Dolly. And obviously those who can't possibly let their minds go to the "psychopath" extreme probably aren't going to be writing about psychopaths. But I'm with you, I think we all have the ability, it's just wherever we place our personal boundaries that limit it.

    Actor, director, writer, set designer...heck, we're our own entertainment studios. :-)

  5. This made me think of an article I read in a writing magazine about what a writer can learn from the theatre.

    You make some very valid points, Dolly. Maybe this is why they say there's a very fine line between creativity and madness. ;-)