Sunday, 25 July 2010

What Characters Actually Say

Another editing tip, one I've found very useful with characters. I first discovered this with Adam in Adultery for Beginners. I couldn't get a grip on his character at all; I wanted him to be kind and sympathetic but I could see he was coming across as simply wet. I didn't got to a purely Method drama school, but we'd had the classes based on Stanislavski's techniques, so one day I tried looking at what Adam said which is the first step a Method actor would take when looking at their role.

I copied all the scenes he was in into a separate document, then deleted everything that wasn't an actual bit of his dialogue. That left me with what he actually said.

Then I repeated the process, but this time left only comments that other people said about him, and deleted the rest.

I discovered that Adam often asked questions, and used a lot of qualifiers in his speech, for example, "I think it's X", or "I've heard it might be" or "Do you think it could have anything to do with...?" According to linguistics expert Deborah Tannen and various other psychologists, men talk in statements, not questions, and use qualifiers less often than women. In other words, Adam was coming across as wet because he talked like a woman.

And what other people said about him confirmed that. He was nice, kind, gentle...all of which are good things, but not exactly butch.

So I rewrote Adam. Not just what he said, but how he said it, and what people said about him. He did blokey things like play poker and go down black ski runs (yes, yes, I know women do these things too but they're more blokey than embroidery, for example). He was still nice, kind and gentle, but was more decisive, more quirky, more self-determined. And he stopped asking all those interminable questions.

At last! I've got my finger out and have committed to running some day courses:
Writing a Novel - 31st July in Bath and 18th September in Truro
Getting a Novel Published - 1st August in Bath and 19th September in Truro
Contact me on for more info...


Anonymous said...

What a fantastic tip. Must remember this, because it's crucial to get the balance just right with heroes (not too alpha, not too wet). I wonder what other acting methods could translate into writing...

Sarah Duncan said...

Glad it helped Johanna. I use quite a things I learnt at drama school in the writing, so will add them over them coming weeks.