Random Inspirations

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Why Writing is Like Acting: Characterization on the Page and Stage

on May 27, 2013

I’m currently in the final revision stage of my novel, and I’ve been paying particular attention to characterization and consistency throughout the story. One comment my instructor made was that a certain sentence I wrote didn’t “sound like Aubree,” my fourteen year-old heroine. I reread it, and it really did sound like an adult, not Aubree, was talking. My instructor also said that one line in a romantic section sounded like something from a romance novel, and challenged me to write it “how Aubree would say it.”

For the most part, I’m very consistent with the voice of my precocious teen heroine, but now I realize that it can be easy to deviate from her voice without even noticing, especially when I’m caught up in the action of the story. We writers have to ensure that we’re getting–and staying–in the heads of our characters, never losing track of their voices. And this got me thinking about how similar writing is to acting, except that instead of staying in character on the stage, writers do it on the page.

Think about it: when an actor takes on a character, he or she must become that character. The actor’s thoughts, feelings, and vocal inflections are no longer his or her own. The actor’s life experience and pre-conceived notions must take the back seat to those of the character. “Breaking character” is the kiss of death for an actor; it could cost him or her the audition or the glowing review, and it could lessen the impact of the performance on the audience.

Actress Kristin Wansten Howarth getting in character in downtown San Francisco

Actress Kristin Wansten Howarth getting in character in downtown San Francisco

Writing, like acting, is a fine art, and writers must be as vigilant as actors about never breaking character. We writers must become our characters. Our passions, emotions, motivations, and life views must fade into the background, while those of our characters must jump off the page, grabbing readers with sheer vitality.

We writers can never break character, because it could cost us that literary agent, or that book deal, but most importantly, it could sever the fragile bond we have with our readers. People lose themselves in books just as they do in movies or stage productions, and we writers have to make sure the world we create stays consistent and never lets our readers down.

So writers out there, I challenge you to characterize on the page the way actors do on the stage. Your “audience” will love you for it!

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