Friday, October 18, 2013

What’s Stanislavski got to do with it?

  Our Oct. 5 Blog talked about the difference between “showing” your story and “telling” your story. This picks up where that left off, so if you haven’t read it, I’d suggest reading it now. Often publishers reject really good stories because they’re written in a “Once upon a time” fashion. Writers tend to describe something rather than show a character’s actions or mannerisms acting it out.

    Why say “He’s in a hurry” when we can show him tapping his foot, gritting his teeth, or putting one foot in front of the other so fast he trips on a jagged piece of concrete sidewalk? The best stories are a series of scenes strung together like a moving picture we can create scene-by-scene using recall and emotions from our own experiences. If your character is in love, remember a time when you were in love. If your character is experiencing grief, remember a time when you were experiencing grief in your own life and draw on the feelings that come to you. If her sweetheart just said “yes” to her marriage proposal, show her laughing or jumping up and down or buying flowers from a street vendor. Or maybe he’s just been accepted to medical school. The medical school of his choice! Clapping or singing or twirling around and around the room- any one of these could be used as the basis for a scene.

    Emotions are universal. You don’t have to have lost a family member to show the despair  of a woman watching her husband die slowly of a terrible disease, or a father’s joy as he looks at his newborn child. Just think of a time when you felt the required emotion and then project that feeling in the form of a scene into your character. For any of you who have taken drama, this might sound a lot like the Stanislavski “system” of (actor) projection. That’s because in a way it is, and in a way it isn’t.

    When Stanislavski developed his method in 1906, he was talking about live theater. There’s a big difference between live theater and the pages of a story or a book. A book can become boring very quickly unless it comes alive. So that’s the goal: making our words come alive. What do we see? What do we hear, touch, taste and smell? Now let’s grab hold of that and show it to our readers. 

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