THIS IS NOT JUST FOR ROMANCE WRITERS
by Biljana Likic
If there’s anything I’ve learned from acting and studying drama, it’s that if you can’t find the love in the scene, it will be boring.
“But wait! What does acting have to do with writing?!”
More than you might think.
Actors, they say, are the ultimate explorers of the human condition. They study how people live and react, carefully reading over their scripts, sometimes coming up with whole histories to explain why a character might say something. They create lives out of a few words of text and put them on display for others to take in.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that sort of like what writers do? Don’t writers also create characters, tell us what they’re like; what they do? The only real difference, it seems, is that writers write it, and actors act it.
Going to an art school, studying drama, the most constant, most helpful piece of advice I got was, “Find the love in the scene.” Why love? Nothing creates more conflict than that one, often stupid, never dull emotion. Everybody at some point in their lives has been loved, or experienced love. Whether it is motherly care, crazed infatuation, or even just patriotism, love is a universal human trait that is biologically ingrained in us from the get-go.
“But it can’t be that important in writing!”
It is. Think about it; the man loves the woman, the woman is indifferent. Oh great, that’ll take you to about…page two. But. The man loves the woman, and the woman is not indifferent, and, in fact, loves him back, but pretends not to love him because he is forbidden…well, now. That is a story. And on stage, that woman would make little actions, do small motions to show the man that even though she’s not looking at him, she’s thinking about him constantly; and even though they’ll never be together, they’ll always have their subtle passing touches.
It is up to the writer to mimic this. Actors, put simply, imitate life. Writers, then, need to do their best to put that imitation into words: to show us body language through incredible imagination. We need to hear the voice, we need to see the movement; you can’t just relay what was said, you have to describe the reactions. You have to show how much they love each other and we have to realize that their hearts are breaking through a flush of embarrassment, a turn of a wrist, a sudden fascination with the texture of the floor. Find the love in the scene.
At this point, I’m sure some of you are thinking, “But why not hate?”
Because hate is narrow. There are so many places that love can take you that an emotion like hate never will. The reason is because love can be thwarted; hate can’t. You can live your whole life hating somebody, and all you’d have to do would be to either stay away from them, or kill them (preferably the former.) But to love takes a certain brand of courage or recklessness because nobody can guarantee that it’ll be requited. You can end up miserable for life.
On stage, the direction “to hate” is never better than “to love”. The question shouldn’t be what don’t you like but what do you like. What you don’t like will then come naturally. If a character loves being neat, you can assume that they’d hate being sloppy. Then, you can build on that by creating a slob of a romantic interest. And thus is conflict born.
So now that I feel like I’ve drilled that point in sufficiently, I thought I’d share some other things that I’ve learned in drama class that have helped me a lot with writing stories. These are some questions that actors usually ask themselves when they’re on stage. They can be, with some modifications, applied effectively to creative writing.
Here we go:
- What do you want? A character always wants something. If they don’t, they have no purpose, and the story becomes stale. What does the character want to happen? How can they make it happen? Think about real-life experiences, or even movies and plays that you’ve seen. Seriously, they can help.
- Why did you move? One of the biggest things in acting is action. (Go figure.) But there has to be a reason for action. Why did the character walk to the left instead of the right? Something that my drama teacher loves to say is that you’re either moving away from somebody, or towards somebody, depending on what you want. Don’t make your character do things without a reason.
- Why did you say that? If an actor doesn’t know why they said a line, it’ll be confusing for the audience as well. There has to always be a reason for dialogue. Even if it’s something the character blurts out, you as the author need to know why they did it; they’re nervous because they’re talking to a person they like, or they weren’t listening to what someone was saying and wanted to appear as if they were. Don’t put in a line of dialogue without knowing why it’s there.
- Find the love in the scene! I know, I know. Not a question. But I can’t stress this enough!
And this is my final plea: don’t shirk away from love just because it can be mushy. Embrace it, and there is no end to the stories that can happen. In fact, I challenge you, reader of this article, to find me a story that had zero love in it, written before today. And it has to be fiction. Don’t start telling me about how there’s no love in a chemistry textbook. I don’t like chemistry either, but I’m afraid that won’t cut it.
I’ll even raise the stakes. There will be a prize. One postcard from Toronto, Canada, addressed to you from me, expressing how humbled I feel to have been proven wrong. Or, you know, a couple chapters’ critique of a WIP of yours. Whichever.
Take care, everyone. Thanks for reading. And the winner of that challenge, if there is one, will leave me feeling deeply impressed.
Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She’s in her final year of high school, waiting and waiting to graduate, finish university, and finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here, and check out her work on her FictionPress account.