Using the Tools of Actors to Be a Better Writer

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Write Better Now
Write Better Now
Using the Tools of Actors to Be a Better Writer
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Hi, welcome to Write Better Now, a podcast of quick, weekly writing tips meant to help you become a better writer. We’re your hosts with NYT bestselling author Carrie Jones and copyeditor extraordinaire Shaun Farrar. Thank you for joining us.


I come from a theater background—a sort of. Basically, I spent a lot of my time singing and dancing and acting (badly) when I was growing up and then in college I spent a lot of my time directing and acting (badly) while I was getting my political science degree. 

I’ve always talked about how using the basics of improv helps writers get over things like writer’s block, etc., and at Vermont College of Fine Arts, I focused my graduation presentation on using those tools to help kids write. 

Lately though, I’ve been thinking more about how authors are really using all the roles of theater when they create novels. We have to be actors because we have to live inside the characters and make them three-dimensional representations of people. We have to be directors because we put the story together and tell the characters where to go, and determine the viewpoint that we’re seeing the character. We have to be set designers as we create setting. We’re stage crew bringing props in and out. We’re producers because we’re putting the whole production together. We’re writers because… Well, we’re writing. 

But right now, I just want to focus on how authors are really actors playing every single role in the story. That’s a lot of effort, honestly. 

HERE ARE A FEW TOOLS ACTORS USE THAT WRITERS CAN USE, TOO:

Method Actors and Research – Method acting is when you immerse yourself in the role; you become someone other than yourself. Do writers do this? Sometimes, but not often. Usually we spend a lot of time researching things our characters like but not becoming the characters and/or pretending to be them. I wonder why.

Living In Another World – Actors live in the world of the moment, of the world that they are acting in. Novelists need to do this too. We have to immerse ourselves in the world that we’ve created, to envision the details, see the events, feel the feels. The best novels use concrete details to show character and place. To find concrete details, we have to see concrete details. We have to build worlds on the page piece by piece and symbol by symbol until they are believable. 

Back Story – When I was training in theater with Paul Kuritz and Pope,L, and Marty Andrecki, they all focused on the back story of the roles we played. To understand the character in the moment, we had to understand the moments that came before, what brought our character to this place to react this specific way in the play. And we didn’t need to know just the history of the character, but the history of the world and the cultural implications that influenced that character. Authors sometimes do this, too, but I think some of us could do it more. 

Study Real People – To understand nuance and tics and behavior, actors often study real people and model a character on that person, or at least model a behavior of a character on that person. Writers often do that, too. 

Acting and writing require empathy. You have to move outside yourself and envision how someone else will react, feel, think, instigate. That’s important when trying to create a world of civility and positive change. 



Hey, thanks for listening to Write Better Now.

These podcasts and more writing tips are at Carrie’s website, carriejonesbooks.blog. There’s also a donation button there. Even a dollar inspires a happy dance in us, so thank you for your support.

The music you hear is made available through the creative commons and it’s a bit of a shortened track from the fantastic Mr.ruiz and the track is Arctic Air and the album is Winter Haze Summer Daze.

For exclusive paid content, check out Carrie’s substack, LIVING HAPPY and WRITE BETTER NOW. It’s basically like a blog, but better. There’s a free option too without the bonus content but all the regular stuff is there.

Author: carriejonesbooks

I am the NYT and internationally-bestselling author of children's books, which include the NEED series, FLYING series, TIME STOPPERS series, DEAR BULLY and other books. I like hedgehogs and puppies and warm places. I have none of these things in my life.

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