How Writers are Actually Actors
by Ryan Lanz
“As a writer, I am just an actor in a play, telling a story that needs to be told.” -Rita Webb
I hate memorizing lines.
In my teens, I had a brush with the acting bug. I enjoyed the thrill of being on stage. The thunder of the applause was intoxicating. I lived in southern California at the time, and I briefly considered having a go at acting. The main problem: I hated memorizing lines.
Come to find out, the acting world is far less glamorous than it seems. Actors frequently have to be early risers, especially if the character has to wear heavy make-up. The hobbit characters from the Lord of the Rings movies, for example, often had to be at the cosmetics trailer at 4am to begin putting on their feet extensions. Ugh.
I abandoned the notion and really didn’t revisit the thought until recently. Years ago, I read an interview with Harriet McDougal Rigney (widow of James Rigney, author of the iconic The Wheel of Time Series) where she mentioned that whenever he wrote from the viewpoint of the villain Padan Fain, his mood was different, almost reflective of the character himself. One day he came into the kitchen, and she said, “You’ve been writing Padan again today, haven’t you?” It turned out he had. It was then I realized that writers become a part of that character when they write them, to one degree or another.
I’m sure we’ve all watched interviews of actors who virtually became that character for a time. One example of this dedication that comes to mind is Heath Ledger as the Joker. Heath gave an unbelievable amount of effort into becoming that role. He prepared for it by reading every relevant comic book, reading the Joker’s lines, closing his eyes, and meditating on them. He reclused himself away in his hotel room for weeks and wrote a diary of his findings, experimenting with voices. I think few people could match that level of character dedication.
While those are two very different examples, I’m sure you see the correlation. In both mediums, the creator borrows that character’s mentality for a time in order to capture what that character is really like.
What I enjoy about being a writer is that I get to be in the minds of so many different characters within the same project. An actor, in most cases, can only stay the one role until that project is completed. And, of course, I wonderfully don’t have to memorize any lines, but I do get to “act” out each character by the end of the book.
Even better, I can act out characters that I likely never could as an actor. In my books, I have “acted” out people from all different types of backgrounds. When I sit down to write, I’m a dragon, a newspaper editor, a wizard, a psychopath, a high school student, an assassin, a snobby butler, a talking horse, or a 17th century Portuguese explorer.
I once watched a documentary about people who do vocal acting in Hollywood. John DiMaggio, the voice of Bender from Futurama, said something similar, but I think, as writers, we can take it a step further than voice actors in this regard.
For me personally, when I put myself in a character’s mindset, it’s not a heavy meditation. Not everything comes naturally to me when writing, but this does. I usually can think of how that person would behave, react, talk, and gesture in ways that other characters wouldn’t. I don’t think every writer needs to dive into the deep physique of their characters, but there’s something to be said for artists who are so dedicated to their craft that they can’t wait to experience the mindset of those they create.
Ryan Lanz is an avid blogger and author of The Idea Factory: 1,000 Story Ideas and Writing Prompts to Find Your Next Bestseller. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.