Exploring the Dark Side
There was a post the other day on a social media site with a tip on writing. The tip had to do with knowing the outside and inside goals of your characters.
This got me thinking. Writing and acting are actually somewhat similar to one another.
I was originally a musical theater/theater addict for most of my young adult life. I went to theatre school in NY for years and I loved the stage. But when it came to my acting classes, it wasn’t easy for me. I was more focused on my skills in dancing and singing than the intricacies of acting. I would learn that acting is present in all of it and it would all really sink in for me years later as I studied aspects of psychodrama and movement therapy. If I were on the stage now … y’all … I would be on FIRE … 🙂So back to the writing tip … Writing and theater have a very strong point of intersection. In both, you get know your character intimately. You get to know them inside and outside. You get to know what drives them, what they want, what they need, what their weaknesses and strengths are. You get to undress them and see them for who they are underneath it all.
“An author should know their character intimately, they should know their history, how they would react in a situation, they should know their look and mannerisms down to the smallest facial tick. Yet all of this need not be revealed to the reader.”
— Aaron Miles, quote from On Character Construction
As an actor, you have to come to the place of understanding why a character makes decisions and you’re looking for reflections and drives in your own life that might inform you on this. In writing, it’s the same. You can use your own experience and drives to inform how you write and how you develop characters.
It’s that intense interest in wanting to know more about human behavior, and why we do the things we do. It’s that curiosity that fuels the desire to know more. It’s that Love of human-ness that can propel a character portrayal or a novel forward.
What I find interesting in it all is that both actor and writers, (and there are a lot of us) have a close relationship to human behavior. It’s poignant, Those writers that would create the evilest of characters had to understand their deepest desires, had to know their humanity. And those actors who portray the very same kinds of characters in film or on stage, have to come to a place of understanding that we all were children once and action is just a reflection of something deeper that may well resonate with the average person. It’s a unique place to spend your time – on the underside of humanity finding all the little places of connection, all the nuances of the heart and the ways to relate to it all.
I have a chapter in The Storyteller’s Throne that looks at the darkest of emotions and actions and asks the main character, Grace, along with others of her kind to watch, without judgment, as they become Uncovered. It was a chapter that I wrote, trying to find my empathy for someone marginalized by their anger and rage and possible consequences of it left unchecked. I spent some time just sitting with the darkness of what I was writing about. It felt important. It also felt sacred and wild. How do I write it in a way that brings truth to the emotions and the situation without turning the reader away because of the reality of who this is.
That’s where writers and actors have the chance to really move someone, to create change, to make people think … It’s in the place of bringing humanity to the surface of even the darkest darkness … From here we can all learn.