Friday, September 21, 2012

Week 3: Method Writing, or Why I Can't Write Around Other People

All right. Here’s a more solid post, something I’ve noticed about myself. I’ve heard a few skirting mentions, but nothing that actually makes a point of talking about this.

Method writing? What the heck is that?

Well, I take the term from acting. Simply put, a method actor is an actor to whom the character—motivations, psychology—is the most important part of a script. It is what convinces such an actor to take on a role, or what often makes them pass. Method actors are known for going so deep inside the mind of a character that when the audience looks into the actor’s eyes, they can see the character’s soul.

Heath Ledger was a method actor; his devotion to the role is what created the powerful, almost mystical performance of the Joker in The Dark Knight. Marlon Brando is another, and you can see the sincerity of his performance in The Godfather, Part I. A great example of a method actor still very active today is Geoffrey Rush, who plays Barbosa in the Pirates of the Caribbean films; compare with his work in The King’s Speech.

(Here’s a larger list of method actors, and what it means to be one:

These are the kinds of actors who win awards consistently, while also being actors who make a direct, powerful connection with the audience. Watch Michael Clayton, the ending and credits specifically, and you’ll see what I mean.

They’re also infamous for being eccentric, difficult to work with, and impossible to direct. And they aren’t known for steady work, either. But how does this relate to writing, and writing Epic Fantasy, at that?

Those of you who have read Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time probably know where I’m going already. The depths of understanding Jordan had with his characters was astounding; The blacksmith scene with Perrin in The Dragon Reborn is one of those that simply gives me chills. I feel so close to what is happening, so close to the characters.

Fantasy is often still seen as the teenaged grandson of Tolkien, only meant to give over-the-shoulder views of the fantastic. While I think many of us aspire to Tolkien’s sense of awe, I personally mean to gain immediacy, and intimacy, almost akin to 1st person perspective.

(Robert Jordan also fit with some of the other stereotypes. Harriet, Jordan’s wife and editor, said she could always tell when Jordan was writing the madman Padan Fain; he would slink around the house, she said, and cackle fiendishly for the rest of the afternoon.)

Why do I consider myself a “method writer”? Let’s tally the score.

Am I eccentric? Check.

Difficult to work with? Check.

Bad at taking direction, and taking too long to finish a piece? Check and Check.

Focused on character above all else? Check.

Award winning, the focus of worldwide admiration? Dang it.

Oh, well. Five outta six aint bad. I want the reader to see through the character’s eyes, share his thoughts, understand his very anima. As pretentious as that sounds, it’s what I want. Fortunately, that’s all possible, with my kind of writing.

However, there are some serious drawbacks.

It takes me fifteen minutes, or about, to write myself into the character’s head. If I’m sharing a room with someone, this makes writing VERY hard to do. If the other person only has something to say every TEN MINUTES, an hour of writing will get me precisely nowhere. I’ll just start to develop a real sense for the character before I’m ripped away. And if you keep pressing reset on your NES, Link is going to HATE you.

Also, if a character feels something, I have to understand (or be able to imagine) what that’s like. Similarly, if a character KNOWS something, I have to learn at least enough about it to fake knowing EVERYTHING about it. Horses are a big one in Fantasy; so are weapons. I had to learn what a langlet is, just a couple of weeks ago.

But, benefits and drawbacks aside, I don’t really have a choice about it. “Writers write.” And method writers sit and whine about how hard it is to write. : )


Now, onto Magic!

My brother essentailly said it's impossible to make an effective Heartless Summoning deck, so guess what I'm going to be trying for the next little while?

Heartless Summoning
Palladium Myr
Myr Superion
Etched Champion
Adaptive Automaton
Solemn Simulacrum

That's what I've got so far. Gotta build this one fast, because most of this is rotating out.


Actually, Mary Robinette Kowal made a reference to the concept of "Method Writing" in an episode of Writing Excuses. Thought I'd give credit where it's due. Here's the episode:

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