|Taken during my summer in England, 2012.|
As an actor I spent years (and I do mean years) getting inside other people's heads. I've played career-driven women, women with relationship issues, women hungry for power and women looking for love. I've even played a man with emotional troubles; the psychiatrist, Martin Dysart, in Peter Schaffer's classic play Equus. I learned a myriad of dialogue rhythms, from comedic to tragic to Shakespearean. I honed my comedy. I discovered how people react to different situations and how to portray that (both emotionally and physically) on stage.
As a director I had to 'look at the whole board' (to quote one of my favourite screenwriters) instead of concentrating on one specific piece. Some plays need to move at the speed of a spinning top; some benefit from a more lackadaisical rhythm, but all need to create their own unique worlds. Audiences can sniff out a false moment in an instant and their rustling and coughing are the symptoms of your failure.
But now, I write. Climbing inside each of my characters' heads and viewing the world through their eyes is second nature for me. I can know their vocabularies and their rhythms. Most importantly, I know what each of them want. In a play every scene has to move the plot forward and I try to apply this rule to my writing. Every unit has to either move the plot or let the reader learn something new about a character (or characters). I try not to have large descriptions of settings, unless it's vital to the plot. Many times it's the people and the events that are important, not the colour of the paint.
Every actor learns how to discover their character by answering the questions: What do I say about me? What do I say about others? What do others say about me? I suggest you take a look at whatever you're writing at the moment and answer it as each of your main and secondary characters. It may change how you view your characters or it may help you realize you're writing it exactly the way you want!
In the theatre instead of saying 'good luck' we say 'break a leg'. In that spirit, to all you writers I say 'break a pen or keyboard'.
Elspeth Antonelli is an author and playwright. Her murder mystery games A Fatal Fairy Tale and Curiouser and Curiouser are among the top-selling mystery games on the internet. All thirteen of her murder mystery games and two audience-interactive plays are published by host-party.com. She has also contributed articles to the European writers' magazine Elias. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Antonelli, Author.