Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension” – part 10: The Writer as Actor

Welcome! Over the next many months we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrison‘s teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read all the segments by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on the drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month ten:

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“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 10: The Writer as Actor

In my first three Alaska novels, my characters do not sit on chairs. They don’t even sit cross-legged on the ground; they squat on their haunches. This is a very typical pose for people who live without furniture, but the problem is, other than on a few camping trips, I’ve lived with furniture all my life. So to write about my ancient Aleut people, I had to learn how to sit on my haunches. It wasn’t easy, but, by learning, I avoided having my characters do something that would not work physically.  In effect, I became an actor and acted out the “sitting on haunches” portions of the novel. Since then, when I’m writing a scene, I often get up from my chair and act it out right in my office. It’s amazing how much more convincing and realistic your words will be if you back your scenes with a healthy dose of “acting out.”

Janet_Marie_Chvatal_'Sissi'

Here are a few acting tips that might help you as you write your novel:

1. If you are writing fight scenes and have no experience in that particular arena of life, take a self-defense class. It sure helped me write more realistic and gritty fight scenes.

2. Don’t be afraid to take up a new hobby. If your main character sews quilts, buy a book, take a class, do a little quilting.

3. Use your mirror. Imagine yourself angry and look at your face in the mirror. What are you doing with your eyes? Your mouth? Your eyebrows? Don’t get overly descriptive. A word or two will do.

4. Enlist your DVD player. Watch a good movie and check out how the actors express their emotions. Replay scenes that catch your heart and keep a pad handy to jot down the first words that come to mind as you watch the actors laugh, cry, express anger, fear, dread, etc.

5. Watch babies and young children. They haven’t yet learned to guard their feelings by masking facial expressions. They are the exaggerated versions of adult facial behavior.

6. Read articles or even a book about body language.  My husband, a high school principal, had a training session in how to tell if people are lying. He shared the information with me, and since then it’s appeared in subtle ways in my short stories and my novels.  The Internet abounds with resources. Take an hour or so  and have fun learning how people express emotions with body language.

7. Pay attention to hands and feet. A person might have a good poker face, but his/her hands and fingers, feet and toes are “saying” what s/he really feels.

The next time you sit down to write, remember, you’re not only a writer; you’re an actor. Stride boldly onto the stage and become your characters!

Have fun! Any questions?

Sue

*Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy, and a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you to come back November 28, 2013, for part 11.

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6 responses to “Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension” – part 10: The Writer as Actor

  1. I never thought of it like that but of course we have to be actors as well. Writers are typically people watchers but watching for expressions and taking note is a great idea. I hope the folks on the skytrain don’t think I’m too weird when I stare at them and then make notes!

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  2. All great tips, Sue! I always run dialogue over in my head, using the expression my character would, but never thought of actually physically taking on the role. Good idea!

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  3. I’d love to be the mouse in the corner watching you, Darlene! Long before I wanted to be a writer, when I was just a very small child, my mother taught me that People Watching is an art. During my mother’s teen years, her mother was dying of cancer. Her parents’ “Date Night” was parking sitting in their car downtown in their city on Friday nights and watching people walk by. Inspiration in many ways.

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  4. Laura, your comments mean a lot to me coming from a writer as gifted as you are!

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  5. Ooh! Ooh! Pick me! Pick me! *waves hand frantically in air* What are the Top 5-10 tips for finding out if someone is lying? This can come in handy. 😉 Great post. I like acting and exaggerating. 🙂

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    • Somehow that doesn’t surprise me, Erik!! You have so much energy! Some clues about lying – 1. they sidestep the question. For example, if you ask, “DId you steal the cookie?” They would answer, “Steal the cookie? Who me? You know I’m on a diet.” Rather than saying, “NO!” 2. Unable to look directly at you. They look to the side instead. 3. Pupils constricted. (You have to be careful with this one. They can’t be looking into a bright light.) 4. Rubbing their eyes or nose. 5. Jittery. 6. Change the story they originally told. 7. Wiping hands on pants. (Sweaty palms) 8. Open mouth, the hanging jaw look – feigned innocence. All of these can be clues to dishonesty, but of course they’re not definite proof. Just clues!

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