Friday, June 11, 2010

Method Writing

Last night I had a dream. (Yes, I know posts on dreams are lame. But bear with me—it’s a great metaphor.) In my dream, I was sitting at a table and all my characters were in a queue waiting to talk to me. A man sat down opposite me and said, “Okay, I’m the guy who sells his coat. What is my motiviation?” All my characters wanted to chat with me about their hopes, history, etc. They all wanted to know their motivations.

I mused on that dream. I think writing is a lot like that. When I first start a novel, I become each of my characters—I’m the irritable, bitter teenage boy hoping to be brave, the villain trying to kill the protagonist, the girl searching for love, etc. In that way, it’s a lot like method acting. But, it doesn’t stay like that.

The longer my characters are around, the more they become “themselves.” They have secrets they don’t tell me (eventually I drag it out of them), they manipulate me, they refuse to do what I tell them—they take over. In fact, they take me over. Ask my kids. They see me gesticulating wildly, mumbling under my breath, and plotting demises—with an evil look in my eye.

It’s no wonder they call writing a special form of madness. My characters and I slip in and out of each other’s skin and mind like changing clothes.

Watch out—I’m becoming the villain later today and he’s intent on world domination.


  1. Andrew McPhersonJune 11, 2010 at 1:32 PM

    That dream kind've reminds me of Charles Dickens, who once claimed that his characters were sitting at his elbow, asking him to write more about them.
    Or at least I think that's what he claimed. Hohum.

  2. Hmm, so that's what Peter's after.

  3. That's very... disturbing. Good thing you're never writing the villain while I'm visiting!

  4. Wow, I would feel very much under the gun if all my characters round tabled me like that lol! But then it is late and I'm impressionable when it comes to dreams. I guess I'd better review their motivations before I fall asleep. ;)

  5. Cool! I've always had imaginary characters ever since I was little. It is just so entertaining, I guess:)

  6. Sigh. I have this beloved children's story about unicorns that I've been working on forever... I just can't let it go. But at the same time I just can't get into my unicorn characters like I can my human characters. I can relate to the way your characters get into you, when I'm dealing with humans. I wish my unicorns would get into my dreams with sassy unicorn attitude...maybe I'm too old to write this book well.

    How old was CS Lewis when he wrote the Chronicles of Narnia? Hmmn, maybe I'm still too young!

  7. I love it! You can take method writing one step further and try to physically experience what a character is experiencing (within reason, of course). As an example, if the character(s) are stranded and hungry, write after a day of fasting. If they're on a long forced march, take a long hike and collect the sensations of feelings of that experience for your narrative.

  8. Great post, very interesting! I really enjoy your blog. :)