Issue # 54
November/December 2009

Lazette Gifford, Editor

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Book Review:

Getting Into Character

Reviewed By Valerie Comer
Copyright 2009 by Valerie Comer, All Rights Reserved

Bestselling suspense author Brandilyn Collins was a long-time student of drama before turning to writing. As such, she brings a unique perspective into her writing craft book, Getting into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors.

Collins examines the Method Acting theory attributed to the great Russian actor and director Constantin Stanislavsky (1863-1938).  He desired his cast to aim for a presentational style of acting based on psychological truth, rather than the currently popular representational style, which was more in tune with outward effect. He believed that actors should get deeply into their characters' inner lives, discovering intimate knowledge of emotions and motivations, in order to present believable productions. Stanislavsky wrote three books on the art of drama: An Actor Prepares, Building a Character, and Creating a Role.

It is from these three books that Collins has picked out seven specific methods that are of particular help to novelists. Actors need to portray their characters physically, but writers do so through the written word. Still, Collins believes that many of the same methods will assist writers. She reminds writers that the only way actors have of depicting characters is to show them. How many times have we writers been admonished 'show, don't tell'? Let's glean wisdom from the actor.

The first secret is Personalizing. Collins shows how writers can creative distinctive characters, each unique and compelling, with traits and mannerisms intertwined with the plot itself.

The second secret is Action Objectives. It's not enough for each character to have goals. Collins urges writers to note goals using active verbs that will inevitably lead to conflict.

The third secret Collins explores is Subtexting. This exploration of the topic is one of the most complete I've seen, showing how the character's actions may be at odds with their dialogue in order to create clues as to what they're really thinking. Communication is more than words.

The fourth secret is Coloring Passions. Collins shows how a passion rarely depends on one emotion to carry it, but rather a mix that shows the texture and complexity of it. I found this section to be particularly helpful. An excerpt of this chapter can be read online on Collins' blog:

The fifth secret Collins refers to is Inner Rhythms. This section contains material I haven't seen in any other writing book, and is a tool that will help create such vibrant action that the reader will feel emotionally part of the scene.

The sixth secret is Restraint and Control. Writers are often guilty of using too many words--or simply the wrong ones. In this section Collins talks about the specific vivid words writers need to convey a strong visual picture. Furthermore, she breaks down sentence structure and types of verbs and how they convey specific feelings to the reader.

The seventh secret is Emotion Memory. Even though writers often wish to portray emotions and scenes that we've never experienced (perhaps coldly calculating a murder--remember Collins writes suspense!), we can find within us an emotion memory that will give us the tools to write these convincingly.

Each chapter ends with detailed analysis of segments from a number of classic novels to help train your eye into analyzing how these various concepts work in actual fact.

Of course, not every character requires this much development, but for the main characters and their secondaries, going through steps such as these seven secrets will give the writer many of the skills to write round characters as opposed to flat, or cardboard, ones.

In fact, all the information may feel like overload. How will I ever remember all this? a writer might ask herself. Collins reminds us that when we first learned to drive a car, there seemed to be so many things to remember, but after some practice, we do much of it without conscious thought. She believes the same is true of writing techniques such as the ones she describes in Getting into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors.

Getting into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors

By Brandilyn Collins

Published by Wiley (March 1, 2002)

ISBN: 0471058947

An Actor Prepares

By Constantin Stanislavski

Publisher: Methuen (1988)

ISBN 0413461904.

Building a Character

By Constantin Stanislavski

Trans. Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood

Publisher: Theatre Arts Book (April 28, 1989)

ISBN-10: 0878309829

ISBN-13: 978-0878309825

Creating a Role.

By Constantin Stanislavski

Trans. Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood

Publisher: Mentor (1968)

ISBN 0450001660





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