Is there such a thing as “method writing”?

Recently, I’ve been working on two projects that are both a little on the edge. One is to write from the mind of an ultra-paranoid character for a horror game that will be released at GenCon: Indy this summer; the other is to write from the perspective of someone whose memories have been ripped from her mind for my novel Argentum from The Violet War. Normally I do “some” research when it comes to character perspective, to get some of the quirks right, but I usually do my best to see the world through their eyes. To me, even small details can take on significant meanings for a character. Maybe the main character hates eggs; maybe they love Voltron.

For whatever reason, everything has just been “clicking” the past, few weeks while I’ve been writing. No more research, no more obsessing about whether or not the characters are believable. It just “is.” From a writer’s standpoint, though—why?

I’m sure you’ve heard of the term “method acting.” One dictionary defines method acting as:

An acting technique introduced by Stanislavsky in which the actor recalls emotions or reactions from his or her own life and uses them to identify with the character being portrayed. —Source: WordWeb Dictionary.

The Wikipedia definition is more fleshed out. Here we understand it to be:

Method acting is an acting technique in which actors try to replicate real life emotional conditions under which the character operates, in an effort to create a life-like, realistic performance. This is contrasted with a more abstracted, less involved style of acting in which the actor himself or herself remains an outside observer of the character he or she is portraying.

“The Method” in method acting typically refers to the generic practice of actors drawing on their own emotions, memories, and experiences to influence their portrayals of characters.–SourceWikipedia

You’ll hear of actors starving themselves for weeks on end, donning fake prosthetics or gain tons of weight and be as unglamorous as possible like Charleze Theron in Monster, 2003. I think, that to some extent, don’t some writers do the same thing? Especially when writing in first person point-of-view?

E.E. Knight, whose book Dragon Champion I reviewed, seems to have used this technique when applying first person point-of-view to his anthropomorphic character, AuRon. I’ve often wondered if horror author Brian Lumley, who wrote the Necroscope horror series among several others, avoids walking around outside, for fear that a vampire will get him.

Method writing is an interesting, psychological process for me because, like acting, I feel like I play the role of another character in order to tell their story. How does that character see the mundane? The spectacular? What’s their favorite plant or, in one of my character’s cases, comic book?

Once detached from writing, I feel the need to discharge, to “get back out” of that mindset. Sometimes I’m lucky and it happens within minutes, other times it takes a bit because my imagination won’t quit. Maybe that’s why some writers get to the point where they can’t separate from their work; I can think of a few cases where popular writers have immersed themselves so deeply in their world they can’t get back out.

Most writers (and actors for that matter) probably understand the difference between fiction and reality; writers might have a slower recovery time than actors simply because it’s not required for them to maintain a physical appearance in society. While actors do change their bodies, mental state and physical appearances, they often need to play the chameleon in order to handle tough promotional and filming schedules. For writers, when your only task for weeks on end is focused on the screen staring in front of you, it’s really darn easy to remain, stuck in your apartment or home, working. Most of what you need (food, toiletries, etc.) you can shop for online, which can be pretty dangerous for the folks like me who put in 12 hours+ a day in front of the computer.

Maybe too much “method writing” is the cause of writers’ strange behaviors; maybe obsessing about commas and conjunctions is. Whatever the case may be, I hope that other people can recognize method writing for what it is and turn it into a switch that can be turned off and on. That way, you control the flow of creativity without burning out too quickly or worse—avoiding your project because you can’t get back into the groove.

Have you ever experienced something like this phenomenon in your own work? Thoughts?

2 Responses to Is there such a thing as “method writing”?

Monica Valentinelli is an author, artist, and narrative designer who writes about magic, mystery, and mayhem. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.

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