More ways the theater can make me a better writer

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By Jessica Brodie

A few days ago, I wrote about how watching my daughter get stage lessons reminded me of how similar acting and fiction writing can be, and how many of the tips that help us be better actors can also help us be better writers (read Part 1 here).

Here are a few more tips:

4. Draw from personal experience to make your character resonate

In acting, we need to make our characters come to life, become living, breathing, real people who resonate with the audience, not serve as caricatures that fall flat. If you are playing an old woman onstage, you might recall times spent with your own grandmother, employ quirks and mannerisms she might have used, to make your character more realistic and believable.

It’s the same thing with writing. Yes, people often read fiction to escape, but part of freeing the reader to jump into that escapism involves creating a believable imaginary universe. That universe is more believable if it is populated with characters that are believable, characters that resonate. So if you’re writing about a bully, don’t take the easy way out and rely on cliché characteristics you’ve read in every other book or seen in every other movie out there. Think back to your own childhood and recall unique quirks from a real-life bully you actually knew or encountered. Use those quirks to flesh out the character and make him or her more believable.

5. Get thicker skin

In theater, the show is everything. If you rehearse a scene that doesn’t work, the director will usually bark, “Cut!” and have you redo it. It’s nothing personal.

Same with writing. Whether it’s your agent, your editor, or your critique group, if someone says a character feels cliché or the dialogue is stilted or a scene is boring and needs more tension, don’t jump to conclusions and wail inside, “I’m a baaaaaad writerrrrrr!” or “They don’t like me!” Accept that while you might’ve been the one who initially wrote it, your work now belongs to the reader, and any constructive criticism is designed to help the book be better than it is. Get over your sensitivity, put on your “big kid undies,” and do what needs to be done to make it soar, not sink.

6. Actors should act for/toward the audience (not themselves)

Watch any live performance and you’ll notice the actors typically face the audience, either straight on or turned three-quarters to the front. While they might look at their fellow actor, their voice is projected outwards so the audience can be privy to the scene. It’s about the audience, not the actor.

In writing, it’s the same. We write for our reader, to spin a world for them and create a believable cast of characters. While the proverbial buck might start with us, stemming from an issue we feel compelled to address or from our personal love of stories and verbiage, it stops with the reader. Think about the publishing world—it’s a business designed to sell books to those who read the books, not to cater to those who write them.

Your turn! What other theater tips and tricks can apply to writing?

Jessica Brodie is a Christian author, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach. Read more of her blogs here, or check out her bio and fiction and journalism work here.

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