I was thinking about my writing and in particular, dialogue. It can sometimes be a challenge to come up with a realistic interaction between to characters. What do they say and how do you show particular emotions without overcompensating? I realised in the process of my normal day I would do something to help me figure out what my characters say and discover the difference between their own voices. I was driving in my car utilising this trick to develop dialogue, when it struck me that I should share this useful writing tip. It is to act out the scenes of your book or screenplay with dialogue.
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
- William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII
The reasons why this is effective is because:
1. The sound and connection of words on a page to your mind is completely different to when you read it out loud. Indeed, when I do essays for university I always read it out loud to myself to ensure that it ACTUALLY does make sense. Until you read it out aloud it may seem logical in your mind’s eye. Almost every time you read out what you have written you will find something to change. It will lead to a deeper characterisation. Acting out your scenes helps you understand your character by being that character. How do they talk? How do they feel? How do they think? When you imagine another character saying something to you as your character, you must respond in the moment of the scene in the way that the character would respond. Imagine it as improvisation.
2. It aids in determining the distinct and separate voices of each character. I find it difficult to emulate the true voice of a man. As I am a female, my male characters sometimes on paper sound quite feminine. When I read it out loud I can hear how effeminate they are and therefore, change the dialogue to say what a man would actually say. It can prevent you from over playing a characters traits. For instance, say that you have a strong willed female character and her dialogue is opinionated and she is always displeased with the world. I find that characters with strong personalities are overdone sometimes, where a more subtle approach to dialogue would be even more effective. By reading it out loud, you can hear where you are over playing their traits and can pinpoint how to tone it down.
3. If you are having writers block in a scene, acting it out is a useful tool to get passed it. When you act out the dialogue and portray a character it can fuel the action within the scene and help you break passed your creative wall. This is because when you get really into it you may discover other things you character might say that propel the story along or even the responses of other characters to what you are doing.
The way that I act out my scenes is in the car or when I am alone in my house. I find that being by myself I can truly get into character and have no reservations about talking to myself. I take my time, imagining the scene in all its detail. I ask myself a few pivotal questions when I get started:
- Where am I?
- Which character am I portraying?
- What is the mood of the scene?
- What has happened in the lead up to this scene?
- What does the room or place look like?
- What am I wearing?
- Who is it that I am talking to?
- What are they wearing?
You need to ask yourself and envision everything about the context you are in. I also must stress that you have to serious about it, you must be completely in the moment of your characters life and you have believe that you are the character. If you want to achieve everything in the list above and make it a worthwhile exercise you cannot be embarrassed to do it. At the same time it’s fun! I love acting, it’s something I have been doing since I was a child. This is a trick to help you make the page come to life and in my experience is does! My experiences in doing this have been phenomenal! There have been times where I have been so into I am crying my eyes out in an emotional scene as my character talking about the loss of everything she holds dear. Whereas, in other times I have gotten chills down my spine and my heart beats faster in a romantic scene. Recently, I did a scene for the book I will work on after I finish my current one and in it my character is utterly heartbroken that her husband has betrayed her. I felt her pain and I felt my heart break as that character. Feeling these emotions will help you portray it on paper because you yourself have felt it. Another way you could do this (if you are brave enough), is to write out a script and give it to a friend or have it played out in your drama group if you are an actor. This is important for screenwriters to do to ensure the scene plays out and sounds exactly how you want. Make sure the person or people you choose are ones you trust and share or appreciate what you are trying to do. The worst thing imaginable is having someone giggling nonstop while you are workshopping your scene. It breaks character not only for themselves, but for you as well and the exercise will not be as effective as it could be.
The benefits of doing scenes with someone else, particular someone of the other sex, is you can see for yourself if the dialogue suits the gender. If it comes out unnatural and stuffy or plain odd coming out of a guy’s mouth then change it. If your heroine sounds more like a dude, change it. There are so many benefits of acting out your scenes! Do not be embarrassed, no one will ever have to know if you don’t want them to and if you do want someone’s help, then it is a fun and exciting bonding exercise.
Please comment below, I really want to know if anyone else does this. If so how do you do it? What are the benefits of acting out your scenes that you have found? If you haven’t ever tried this, do you think that you ever would?