Method Writing – Part 1
Method writing shouldn’t be confused with writing method - how we write - but rather the way a writer applies writing strategies to stories and novels, in a similar way that is employed by actors when Method Acting.
The ‘method’ technique refers to the system used by actors to immerse themselves, their thoughts and their emotions into their characters in an effort to develop lifelike, realistic performances. They achieve this by drawing upon their own emotions and memories for the right character portrayal.
Method writing works in a similar way. It goes beyond that of normal research into subjects and characters and requires a writer to draw deeply upon their thoughts, emotions and their life experiences to fully realise their characters and situations. We all have life experience, but in order to give that realistic edge to their writing, some writers delve very deeply into their personal experiences for that extra dimension.
It’s a way of expression, beyond the usual descriptive narrative, because it allows the writing depth and gravitas of having lifelike characters who are not just multidimensional, but who react to and overcome realistic situations. Method writers are able to completely immerse themselves into their character’s mind and their character’s world.
This type of character building simply means the writer and characters live and breathe each other in a complete cohesive manner; you ‘become’ your character while writing. It’s about extracting realism and emotion, and to a certain degree, exposing a little of ourselves within the character, without inflating the ego. It’s about the study of other people, the observation of mannerisms, how people react to each other and their surroundings, their flaws, behaviour, their environment. It’s about in-depth research and continually asking, ‘what if?’ and ‘why?’ Your character should be a living, breathing being.
We all know the old maxim, ‘write about what you know’. This has always worked well because we can write about our life experiences; the people we know, the places we’ve visited and the things we’ve done. We have a memory bank of relevant information which we can call upon when needed to help flesh out our narrative, to shore up our descriptions and help build characters, but method writing goes a little further by asking not ‘what do I know?’ but rather ‘what will I know?’
This means a writer may want to experience for themselves what the character will experience, the high and lows, the happiness or sadness, the painful and darkest moments, the different emotional feelings. (There are limitations of course - the pursuit of a deeper experience with your character should not lead you to break the law or stretch the boundaries of reality for the sake of art or to ‘feel’ the character). But that’s not to say you cannot delve a little deeper into your character’s psyche or deepen your research.
Method writing requires you to live and breathe your character for a day, or several days or as long as you want. Be that character.
This might involve visiting places your characters might go, or a place they might live, and perhaps the place they might work. It might be that you want to go to the kind of places your character might often frequent in the story – a popular bar, a nightclub or pub, a casino, amusements etc., in order to get a flavour and feel of these places, and why or what motivates your character to visit them. As a writer, you need to completely understand why your characters behave the way they do, so these places might provide the emotional connection to them that you need.
What would your character think the moment they got up in the morning? What would they have for breakfast? Would they cook it or just go out a grab it on the go? What are their thoughts? How to do they look at the world? How do they react to others?
What if your character is a karate expert? Researching it is one thing, but what about being part of it, being able to feel the movements, the fluidity and the power behind it?
What if your character is in the wilderness, starving and trying to survive? Spending the day in the woods and going without food is no great hardship, but maybe it might help you delve into the mind set of your character. How would they feel – would they be afraid of the silence? Would they be scared of the strange sounds of the forest? Would they feel lonely? And what about those hunger cramps and the feeling of needing food, but unable to have it?
This is simple method writing. It’s about being your character. Remember, when in character, they are not you – you are being them in that moment.
In part 2 we’ll look at how you can make your characters multidimensional through the connection of method writing, by using emotion, realism, props, role play and research.