Bringing Emotion Into Your Writing With Method Writing
A good friend of mine is a musician who wrote an emotional country-western song. He was so very proud of it, but when he went to record it, he just couldn’t get the level of emotion he’d had when the song was originally written. He mentioned this to me, asking how I managed to get high emotion on a page in the hopes that my tips might help him get to that place of emotion so he could record the song properly.
I told him about method writing.
Method writing is similar to method acting (the acting theory developed by Constantin Stanislavski). In method acting, the actor draws on their own life’s experiences to become the character they are playing. They fully inhabit the character and some actors even go so far as to stay in character for the entire length of the show’s run in the theatre or the making of the movie. The key is to being the character with all of their values, history, even the way they think.
Method writing is doing the same thing, only instead of acting out a scene, you are writing it. It is writing from a very deep perspective, writing in very deep point of view. I would even suggest that when you write this way that you write in the first person, whether the ultimate book is going to be first or third (you can always change the pronouns later).
So, how do you do this? How do you get so deeply into your character that you can become them?
You need to start by getting to know your character. Either “interview” them asking them all about their childhood, what was the most traumatic experience they’ve ever had, what their family situation was like—all these fundamental questions we need to have answers to to truly know a person. Or, if you’re not comfortable “speaking” to an imaginary person, you can do the same thing by just writing down a list of things you feel you should know about and writing the answers (it’s basically the same thing).
I also fill in my own character sheet (click here for a copy of it). In it, I cover all the basics of the character: what they look like, any particular way they speak, their goals, motivations, and conflicts, their wound, and how that colors the way they see the world. (Here is the same worksheet but with explanations.)
Once you know all about your character, you can put yourself into their place, into their head. Thinking about who they are, what they believe, and why will help you get there. Making their values yours (for the short period of time that you are writing) and keeping in mind what they want either out of life, what their story goal is, or even just want they want in the immediate future of the scene you are writing at that moment.
Seeing the world through the eyes of your character will allow you to write authentically. It will deepen your understanding of the character. And most of all, it will allow you to feel the same emotions your character is feeling. Once you are able to do that, you will be able to set those emotions down on the page in a way that not only you feel it, but your readers will feel it as well.
For my musician friend, it was a lot easier. He didn’t need to inhabit another person, he just needed to go back in time to the person he was when he wrote his song. He needed to get into that same mindset that brought him all of those same emotions. Once he was there, he could record the song the way it was meant to be heard.
So, tell me, friends, do you get into your characters’ minds as you write them? Do you practice method writing? If you’re interested in exploring the topic more in a one-on-one discussion, feel free to contact me for a free half-hour coaching session.