Friday, May 15, 2015

Another Kind of Word Painter

Have you ever thought about the resemblances between writing and acting? I’m going to go off on a fun tangent here. Probably most of you have more experience with the novel than with the stage, but the similarities and contrasts are interesting. I’m no actor (I would crumple in self-consciousness on a stage!), so I wouldn’t have had this on my mind except I’m reading a memoir by an actress for research. (Sidenote: relevant memoirs are the best way for getting into the head of a character who’s unlike you!)

The actors’ goal is to “become” the character they’re playing. They do all kinds of research into the character so that, when it comes time, they can convince the audience they’re not themselves, but this other person from the story on the stage or the screen. They study or imagine this new personality’s motivations, psychology, and background. They seek to know everything about him or her—likes, dislikes, style, hobbies, what he thinks of his family, friends, and enemies, what she’d eat for dinner at the end of a harried day, what he would do if someone picked a fight with him. Eventually the actors develops the part enough that they can transform into that other person at will. 

As I learned this from the actress’s memoir, I realized how we as authors are similar: we seek out everything there is to know about our characters. We especially delve into our protagonists … and just like actors can better play a role if they’re familiar with every aspect of the character’s life, so writers can more convincingly portray a character when they know more about them than what’s seen on the stage of the story’s pages. And writers’ fun is multiplied—because they get to do this with more than one character!

What are other similarities? Actors and writers do their jobs best when they relate what they’re acting or writing to something they’ve experienced. Both learn from life so they can perform their art. Actors must be passionate about their play and character, just like writers must be passionate about what they’re writing. Both have to believe in the value and “reality” of their play or story. And, last but not least (on this list … I’m sure there are more correspondences than what I’ve included here!), both have to pay attention to the needs of their audience. Actors have to stand “just so” and project their voices; writers have to write clearly and entertainingly. 

Or … would it be more accurate to call writers the director of a play or movie? After all, writers can’t “inhabit” every one of their characters … that’d be exhausting! But the director has to know all the characters and what he wants them to do. He makes final decisions about everything that makes the production come alive. And sometimes those fictional characters are like actors or stage crew who have their own ideas of how things should run ….

What are strategies you use to know your characters and story world better? Have you ever acted in a play?

Kelsey Bryant is an author, blogger, and copy editor who loves the Lord. She revels in many things: the beauty of God's Word, the music of English, the wonder of nature, the joy of creativity, the freedom of motion, the richness of literature, the intrigue of history ... and much more. To learn more about her, visit her website or blog


  1. Something that helps me to know my characters and story worlds better is to write about things that are familiar to me. Even if my story is set in another time or place, I can still make some things similar. ; )

    1. That's a great strategy. And that makes it more interesting for people to read, I think, because you can write with greater knowledge and detail and readers can feel like they're reading something real!
      Thanks for your comment!

  2. I have often dreamed of directing a movie, and imagine myself doing so when brainstorming stories (I've even got the musical score playing in my mind). And I can definitely relate to characters having their own ideas about how to run things (one seemingly minor character went so far as to demand his own book!)

    1. Cool! Books, movies, characters, and actors definitely sound like they all tie together with the way you write. Even the musical score; that's very neat. Is the music from your own mind, or elsewhere?
      Great to see you here. Thanks for commenting!


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