You want characters that breathe, conflict that quickens the heart, and genuine emotion rather than hackneyed expression.
In this regard, adding the actor's toolbox to the author's toolbox can help you find your way around blocks and feel your characters' actions.
Theatre techniques can also ensure that you have continuity of action, that your fight/chase scenes make sense, and that real people can say your dialogue without snickering (too much. Sci-Fi dialogue always makes me laugh--and I can't get enough.).
Some of these techniques you can do on your own. Others work best in collaboration with friends and fellow writers. If you're hosting a writing clinic, these are also fun ideas to workshop scenes.
Warning: Always take off your character before moving back into your daily life, especially if you have an emotionally draining one. I'll put a suggestion at the end of the post.
1. Statue (and museum)
This is a simple technique that allows you to embody your character and discover what quirks and physical traits you're exploring and where you're leaving out the opportunity to develop characters further.
1. Stand still and close your eyes.
2. Imagine your character's physical traits: height, weight, oddities, alien nature, fae nature, etc.
3. Slowly morph yourself into the shape of those characteristics.
4. Add the psychological layer: pride, fear, curiosity, etc. Decide how that character expresses its dominant trait.
5. Adjust your statue to fit that mental state as you think some of the thoughts you have given your character.
6. Begin to look for new ways to describe your character or new insights as you think like your character.
7. Jot down your ideas.
8. Museum--if you don't mind photos, take photos of yourself in poses or have a friend either take the photo or be the statue (you can direct your friend which gives you an outside-in perspective).
2. Movement in Character
This is an extension of Statue and helps you describe the type of movements your character would have.
Before doing this, get sticky notes and write down various mental states (angry, sad, joyful, etc.) and activities (grocery shopping, fighting off demons, seeing a loved one, etc.)
1. Returning to Statue, imagine your character in motion.
2. Slowly begin to move. Walk around the room at a steady, deliberate pace.
3. Add in the sticky notes--pull one and put your character into that state while maintaining character.
4. Explore doing each activity while thinking your character's thoughts. You can put the character in situations that are the opposite of the emotional state to see how that changes things (character is outraged at enemies of the galaxy while grocery shopping).
Tableau needs multiple people to be effective. Variations on tableau can show you continuity issues or how you need to change up where your characters are in a scene.
Tableau is also known as the mannequin challenge or posing. The main idea: a group freezes into the most intense part of a scene or a workshopped scene.
1. Choose your scene.
2. Choose the part of the scene you want to work.
3. Decide on the group interpretation of the scene and freeze into place.
4. Find the most dramatic, intense pose that fits the mood. The goal is to show movement and make the scene interesting.
5. Take a picture.
6. If you can step out of the scene or direct the scene, notice where characters are place. Ask WHY the group made the choices they did. If parts of your description confused them or led the group to a choice entirely different from your conception, start to look at your manuscript.
Tableau can also provide you with new ideas.
This take on tableau helps you see where your scene has been or where it's going. You can use this to create work before you've written anything down.
1. Freeze into your tableau.
2. Collectively or under direction, decide what the next major action of your scene is. Slowly move into that tableau. This extra action will show you awkward placements in your scene and continuity problems. Fast-forward develops multiple possibilities also.
3. Rewind is the same but going backward in time.
5. Stage Combat Training
I'm a fan of training in any martial art for both discipline and self-defense. For authors who write fantasy/sci-fi/action, I also believe martial arts are invaluable for writing both the feel and experience of a fight. However, if you can't train long-term and safely in a martial art, taking stage combat classes can help you understand how a fight would work and ways to describe it that are authentic, exciting, and fun.
I will be dedicating tomorrow's blog entirely to stage combat, so the elaboration stops here!
BONUS: Leaving your Character
I learned this technique from the Warehouse Theatre (and, actually, most of the above ideas).
1. Breath in and out. Imagine moving out of your character's mind and body and into your own.
2. Reach behind yourself and pretend to unzip the character's costume. Slowly unzip and take the character off.
3. Step out of the costume.
4. Fold the character up into progressively smaller folds until it's tiny. Then blow it away.
5. Breathe deeply and make sure you have returned to yourself.
What are some ways you develop characters? Let me know in the comments!
Are you in the Upstate SC area? Check out my upcoming workshop Combat, Conflict, and Collaboration, a writing workshop that teaches stage combat!