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"Your interpretation of those elements of the "method" as found on my site is brilliant. I couldn't have done it better if I had written the article myself. I'm especially fond of the phrase "actors and writers were mirror images of each other"...It's my hope that your talent is as obvious to others as it is to me."

--Harry Governick
Artistic Director
TheatrGROUP, Inc.
www.theatrgroup.com  

Infuse Your Book With Emotion: THE METHOD
by Adele Dubois

First published February, 2008, Romantic Penns Newsletter, Valley Forge Romance Writers chapter of Romance Writers of America.

Also available at  Moonglade Marketing


It all started when a critique partner pointed a finger at me and said, “You’re a Method Writer!” Finally, someone labeled the exhausting energy surges, fluctuations in appetite, and sweating I experienced during the writing process before nodding off in my chair and beginning the cycle again.

While creating, I didn’t just watch my characters perform inside my head as they acted out their roles; I became each character and lived out their parts. By my fifth manuscript my energy reserves were sapped and I was fearful of burnout before my career got off the ground. My muse was like a wild stallion that needed taming. How could I learn to control and channel my creativity? If I was indeed a “Method Writer” what did that mean?

Through research, I discovered that actors and writers were mirror images of each other, and that a great deal could be learned by writers who adapted acting techniques to their solitary craft. The most famous of these is Method Acting, also called The Method.

What is The Method?

The Method is “a technique of acting that involves the actor ‘living’ the part, tapping into the character’s inner motivations, rather than merely giving a technical performance.” The most famous Method Actors in the world have been trained at The Actors Studio in New York.

The Actors Studio was founded in 1947 and placed under the Art Direction of Lee Strasburg from 1951 until his death in 1982. The school was created for professional actors, directors, and writers to continue their development, based on techniques devised in the late 1800’s by Konstantin Stanislavski of the Moscow Art Theatre.

When two members of the Moscow group visited America in the 1930’s and then defected to teach Stanislavski’s system at the American Laboratory Theatre, Lee Strasburg immersed himself in learning the secrets of “life on the stage.”

How Does The Method Work?

To infuse emotion into their performances, Method Actors are taught to recapture their reactions and feelings from significant events in their own lives and transfer these reactions to their characters.

Konstantin Stanislavski, the father of American Method Acting, taught, “The creativeness of an actor must come from within.” Writers also create characters best from the inside, out.

How do we tap our well of raw creative energy and maximize its power while honing voice and craft?

The Method Procedures:

There are fourteen interlocking procedures used in The Method as taught by Artistic Director Harry Governick of TheatrGROUP in St. Louis. Content and quotes are used with written permission from Harry Governick.

Relaxation

Song and Dance

Sense Memory

Private Moment

Concentration

Speaking Out

The Magic If

Moment-To-Moment

Objects

Justification

Substitution

Affective Memory

Animal Exercise

Given Circumstances

The following descriptions are brief introductions to The Method, adapted for writers. Quoted material in the following paragraphs are the words of Harry Governick. Descriptions not written in quotations are the author’s interpretations, using Governick’s lessons on The Method as a guide.

Relaxation: Stanislavski believed that tension was the artist’s greatest enemy. Tension must be released in order to concentrate, as it blocks expression. Actors use specific exercises to relax tense muscles before beginning work. Writers have the freedom to choose a form of exercise that relaxes body and mind before work begins. Regular exercise should be part of every writer’s regimen.

Sense Memory: Recalling the five senses from the subconscious mind to create physical sensory reactions. Examples: cold causes chills, the smell of a ripe peach makes the mouth water. “Concentrate on the stimuli associated with a sensory experience and a corresponding response should follow.” Focus on the image and describe the physical responses to capture character emotions and reactions on paper.

Concentration: “If Relaxation is the foundation and Sense Memory is the structure of the ‘House of Method,’ then Concentration is the mortar that fuses the structure to the foundation. Without extremely developed powers of concentration, nothing you do will have much substance.”

The Magic If: Ask yourself, “What would I do if I were in these circumstances?” Children are able to create fantasy worlds that seem totally real to them by using simple props. A stick, a doll, or a mud puddle is instantly transformed into reality. When an adult writer can recapture childhood imagination and transfer an image to a story, magic happens. The Magic If grants the artist permission to believe.

Objects: An object of attention on which the writer can concentrate to avoid distractions. The object may be physical, imaginary, or sensory.

Substitution: Exchanging personal negative feelings about a character, situation, or behavior and substituting thoughts that will make a distasteful scene work best for the story. Substitution is the critical ability to work through personal bias. The power of concentration is especially important during substitution.

Animal Exercise: Method actors choose an animal, study it, and recreate the animal’s habits and movements on stage. At first glance this procedure may seem irrelevant to the writer. However, the exercise teaches artists to shape their comfortable, familiar bodies into unfamiliar forms. This transformation can become a powerful tool for the writer when creating unique characters.

Song and Dance: Learning to remove habitual behaviors and tension that impair expression.

Private Moment: Appearing “private in public” means overcoming personal inhibitions that suppress or limit creativity. Involving yourself completely in the work without fear of presenting your characters’ private behaviors or habits in a public forum.

Speaking Out: A technique designed to overcome moments of lost concentration and tension, when the artist admits out loud that concentration has been broken, and then moves ahead with the scene.

Moment-To-Moment: The ability to recognize and follow unexpected turns of events and accommodate changes in the story outside the original outline. “Happy accidents” occur inside manuscripts as they do in real life. Follow the change of plan with the same logic you would in real life and move on.

Justification: Actors must justify their movements on stage. In this exercise they must explain why they moved to a certain spot on stage or struck a particular pose. The reasons must be real and believable. Writers can use this exercise to justify their character movements so they are in sync with the dialogue and storyline.

Affective Memory: The most widely known procedure in The Method. An actor relives an experience that may produce a parallel emotion in their character. Affective Memory is the crux of The Method and has been labeled everything from “dangerous” to “genius.”

Example: If a story character suffers a loss, like the death of a child or spouse, and the artist has no experience with that loss, the artist recalls an event in his or her own life that will stimulate the emotional response needed to empathize with that character’s suffering. Lee Strasburg recommended that artists use memories at least seven years old to avoid the risk of psychological trauma.

Sometimes, however, the emotion being sought will produce an unexpected reaction. An event that made you sad as a child may make you laugh today. When that happens the artist tries again to relax, concentrate, and produce another parallel memory.


Therapists and writing teachers sometimes use “free writing” as a means to explore deeper emotions and writing courses have been developed around this approach. Free writing, however, without the use of other elements of The Method, and without the corresponding study of craft to shape the emotion into form, is not likely to produce significant results.

Given Circumstances: To tie together, explore, and understand the “spine” or theme of the work, using all the elements of The Method as a guide. To discern the central message of a story.

The Message in The Method:

“Pushkin, Russia’s original literary hero, and the father of the native realist tradition, wrote that the goal of the artist was to supply truthful feelings under given circumstances, which Stanislavski adopted as his lifelong artistic motto.”

How can we learn to inspire ourselves? Stanislavski taught that to “seek those roads into the secret sources of inspiration must serve as the fundamental life problem of every true actor.”

When a writer moves beyond formula and technical ability and enters the creative state, the result may be a more richly textured book that reveals the depth and truth of the author’s emotions, with the power to transform mere words into art.

by Adele Dubois

Resources
The AND Dictionary
The Actor’s Studio History, Harry Governick
A Method to Their Madness by Foster Hirsch


Adele Dubois is a former journalist and foreign correspondent who writes sexy novels for Ellora’s Cave and Loose Id. Her new releases are entitled Dream Traveler and Intimate Art. Please visit her website at www.adeledubois.com 

Adele Dubois 2006-2008 All Rights Reserved

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