Recently the True Love series ran on television, but I didn't watch it despite the impressive cast of actors. The advance publicity was flagging up that the actors had improvised the scripts as if it was a plus point, but I've been an actor and I've performed in improvised plays and what it's taught me is that 'actor' and 'writer' are different words.
Improvised dialogue feels right. It feels natural. It comes from a emotion that feels real to the actor. There appears to be an authenticity, which is the Holy Grail in acting.
But do we really want to watch (or read) real life? No - because we're living it ourselves. I suppose there must have been some Big Brother afficionados who watched every second of footage from the house, but they must have been thin on the ground. We watch and read fiction instead.
Fiction isn't real. It has structure - which real life often doesn't. It has purpose - which real life often doesn't. It has meaning - which real life often doesn't. It has an ending - which real life doesn't (even if you die, life carries on).
The trick is to make fiction appear like real life. It's real life but with purpose, structure, meaning and an ending. That's what the writer adds. So don't tell me it's improvised - I can do that in the comfort of my own home.
When we write fiction it isn't about us and how we feel, it's about how we make the reader feel. And that takes craft.
That's my blog post. And now:
A Boring Anecdote To Prove The Point from when I was an actor...
I was playing Ruth in The Silver Sword, a play about a group of Jewish children fleeing Poland and trying to get to Switzerland where they hoped they might be reunited with their parents. Ruth is the oldest, and leader of the children. In rehearsals, the reunion scene always made me cry (shades of Jenny Agutter crying 'my daddy!' in The Railway Children) and several of the other actors congratulated me for feeling the emotions, for living the part.
Come to the performances, and my group of children has gone from the two other professional actors to a troupe from the local stage school. In the big reunion scene they were all fidgeting and whispering on stage behind me. I couldn't get into my emotions! I didn't cry! My whole performance was ruined. For three nights this was a problem. The children fidgeted and whispered, I didn't cry, it was a disaster. (For me as an actor. The play was fine.)
Then I got over it. I would have to act, instead of 'being there in the moment'. That night, the children fidgeted and whispered, and I acted my Jenny Agutter moment instead of living it. To my surprise, there seemed to be a lot of white things waving in the audience. As I'm hugging my father and mother on stage, I'm also squinting at the audience trying to see what was going on.
It was handkerchiefs. People in the audience - and quite a lot of them - were crying. I was AMAZED.
And that's how it went on. night after night. When I genuinely got caught up in the moment and cried, the audience didn't. When I acted, the audience did.
So as a writer, I ask myself - who do I want to get emotionally involved? Me? Or the reader? Both is best, but if I have to use craft and not my own feelings to get the reader going, then that's what happens. The reader comes first. Always.