Her words struck a chord with me. As writers, we use our experiences to inform our characters' emotions—even when their experiences are different. It's just like method acting, I thought. After all, how many times have I been in a bad mood after a writing a particularly difficult moment in a character's journey? My writing bleeds into my daily life. In a sense, I become these characters—I take on their emotions. Is that not the same as method acting?
A quick search of the term "method writing" shows that I am not the first to consider this.
Jack Grapes published a book about method writing in 2015. A BBC article asks whether method writing is the "future for novelists." In the article, author Thomas W Hodgkinson describes writing his novel from the inside of a cupboard:
"I was trying to get into the mindset of my main character, who breaks into his ex-girlfriend's house and lives there for months without her knowing. He spends a lot of time lurking in shadows, behind doors, and crouched in cupboards."
In my mind, I considered method writing to involve taking on your character's emotions and allowing your own emotional experiences to drive their reactions. But for Thomas W Hodgkinson, as for many actors, the process of becoming a character is a literal one.
This brings a whole new facet to an idea I had thought fairly straightforward, if not easy. Should writers physically emulate their characters? I'm sure many of us have carried out this process in reverse. Our characters take on aspects of our daily lives, because we understand those things and can write about them. honestly and accurately. For example, one of my characters spends some time backpacking. I backpack, myself, so I am already in her shoes, in that respect.
That same character lives in isolation for many years, with no technology and minimal contact with the outside world. Does that mean I should place myself in the same situation? Would my writing benefit from it?
Are sacrifices always best for art?
In my case, this type of extreme method writing would be potentially harmful to my work. Not only would the lack of internet connection make research difficult, I would need to sacrifice my income. As Virginia Woolf said, "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."
But the same can be said of Hodgkinson's method. Because there was little space in the cabinet, he wrote most of his novel on his phone. I think anyone who has tried to write more than a text message on a phone keyboard would call that less than ideal.
So which is more important to good writing: practicality or inspiration? Can this method writing technique be useful enough to outweigh even basic difficulties? I haven't yet taken the idea to these extremes, so I'm not yet ready to weigh in. But I'm interested to hear whether any of you have tried this sort of technique.
To some, method writing requires a commitment to literally embodying a character. But to me, the idea is the process of connecting emotionally with a character. Writers can draw on their own experiences to understand how a character may react emotionally to certain situations, even if the writer has not experienced them.
A writer who does not know the pain of losing a spouse may have lost a grandparent. A writer who has never felt the satisfaction of solving a murder case may have completed a difficult project. Although these situations are not the same—and of course, each individual experiencing them will have different reactions—the emotions are universal. Grief, celebration, longing, pride... Emotions are central to the human experience, and we can use them as a starting point to understand our characters.
Maybe this post introduced you to a new concept. Maybe it made you view your current writing methods in a different light. Or maybe you've been using method writing for years.
Whether the concept is new or old, I hope you keep it in your arsenal. Add it to your writing tool belt. You never know when you might need a new approach to a particularly difficult scene, story, or character.
Especially after we've been writing for many years, it's easy to become comfortable in our process and to stop taking risks and trying new methods. We label ourselves a "pantser" or a "plotter" and forget that there are far more ways to write. So no matter if or how you choose to apply these techniques, I hope you never stop learning and trying to branch out as a writer. Pushing boundaries can create some of the strongest stories.
Tell me in the comments, have you tried method writing? Did it work for you? And have you tried any other unique techniques?