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
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 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
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
Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors
Wiley (March 1, 2002)
An Actor Prepares
Theatre Arts Book (April 28, 1989)
Creating a Role.