Sunday, October 10, 2010

Method Writing.

I read somewhere that James Dean would so go into his character that he, when playing a drunken, would fool his cast mates and crew into thinking he was really inebriated. I also read that Bjork, following completion of DANCER IN THE DARK, was so absorbed by her character that she vowed never to act again. It had broken her heart. I love this idea, of being so entrenched in your character that you become them. It's something I do every time I write a book.

I didn't set out intending to write this way. Frankly, I never actually set out to write, I just sat down one day and began writing. With my first novel, it was easy for me to write as though I was my main character. JUST A LITTLE RAIN is a very fictionalized, semi-autobiographical novel. It's not all me, but it's enough me that I *got* Eliza right from the get-go. I never had to ask myself, "How would she behave in this situation?" or "How does she feel about this?" or "What things does she notice when she looks at the world?" I just thought about how I would see, feel, and react, then wrote it.

WHERE CURRENTS PULL was more difficult for me to get into, because my intention with that novel was to tackle a problematic area of my own personality (my inability to make big decisions, and my near-obsession with the small ones), but to assign it to a character who was very much not me. I found myself writing in Eliza's voice for a while, before I realized I had to change my approach for Natalie. I changed the music I was using to write to, and thought long and hard about her voice. Natalie spoke in run-on sentences; she began sentences with "So" and "And" a lot. She over-explained and over-thought everything. She was detail-oriented to the point of being either annoying or charmingly strange.
The more into her character I got, the more I behaved like Natalie. I started dressing in dresses exclusively just like Nat, started talking long, noticed all the small details of everything around me, appreciated sparkly things (not vampires) and the color blue, and- even more weird- developed a very easy, breezy attitude with life. Actually, I was probably the happiest I've been in a long time when I was writing Natalie, just because she's, generally, a very happy person.

Then we get to ABOVE THE WAVES. When I started on this novel, I already had it in my mind that I become my characters as I write. I found Amanda a specific playlist (which was difficult- I wrote a blog about it some long time ago), and set out to discover her. Amanda's a tough one, because she starts out this totally confident, dry, and hot girl. When I wrote the beginning, I curled my hair in waves every day, exercised twice a day, and limited my drinking. As the writing progressed, Amanda devolves into a huge mess of depression. So did I. It wasn't specifically intentional, but when you're trying to understand how a character will behave when she's feeling that way, you have to tap into something. It's interesting, because I imagined her depression to be this heavy sadness, but it didn't end up that way at all. She(we) felt a general numbness to the world, interspersed with fits of anger. Actually, it really worked for her character and, I think, was tons more authentic than weepiness would have been.

*It didn't work very well for me, however, and I'm finding it very difficult to break away from Amanda. I guess it doesn't help that the story doesn't end all rainbows and unicorns.*

Anyway, I wonder if other writers do this? I mean, I know I'm a weirdo, but there have to be more of us out there, right?

Listening to: Mates Of State "Re-Arrange Us" again. I'm a Tuesday, remember?

xo. kb.


  1. So to emphasize how this affects me, my current project is a complete overhaul of JALR and it's causing me major pain. I'm writing Eliza way too nice, and I know it's because that's how Amanda sees her. I just added a scene between the two of them and it was so weird to be flipping my perspective of the two of them. Uncomfortable, even. I need to put on some Jeremy Enigk or something to help me get in the mood.

  2. YES. I think all the BEST writers do that. Just as all the BEST actors have. Brando, De Niro, even your boy Johnny Depp... it took him over a YEAR to shake the Hunter S. Thompson character from Fear & Loathing. It ate a part of his soul.

  3. How is Johnny Depp my boy? We all know I'm in love with James Franco. Who, bee tee dubs, is also a method actor.
    But I like that you point out JD had trouble shaking Hunter S. I mean, it's Hunter S. for God's sake. But also now I feel like a ninja because it takes me only a couple of months.
    Suck it Johnny!

  4. Oh I just say that to anyone who's not ME. I was under the impression that I'm the only female in the world who doesn't find The Depp attractive in the slightest. I do have respect for his body of work. Just not his body. And I loved Fear & Loathing. In all fairness, his method acting for that role might have involved actually using ether and whatnot... he probably had to do a stint at rehab to eat up at least 6 of those months.