Exercise: Method Writing

by jonnahzkennedy

When an actor really wants to get into his role, he’ll do something that is called method acting. This means that the actor will not break character for the duration of shooting a film: he will learn to become this character,a ll the aspects of this character, and not only know all his lines by heart for the rest of his life, but will find himself inventing his own lines, monologues, and thoughts of this character. In order to do this, the actor will wear the clothes of this character, change his apperance as much as he can–as long as it’s reversible by the end of the project, such as when actors chip their teeth for roles or lose dramatic amounts of weight–to look like what this character should and would look like. They become the character, and this is what makes method actors performances so mesmerizing and incredible when done just right. These are actors like Bryan Cranston, Heath Ledger, James Franco, Christian Bale, and others: when they get into character, you begin to forget that these are people who have played goofy dads, drug dealers, and psychopaths.

For this matter, when a writer writes a first person story, they open the skull of a particular peson whose walking in a city in their head, and follow them on their way. There are two ways to do this: firstly, you could guide these people like God stepping into a man and walking around in his skin with plenty of authorial intrusion on multiple levels, and making sure that everything goes as planned for not only the character, but also you yourself the author. Then there are stream-of-consciousness narratives like American Psycho and other works by Bret Easton Ellis, the works of James Joyce, Chuck Palahniuk, and many other authors. Stream-of-Consciousness narratives are those narratives that start  to really sound like someone riffing off their unspoken thoughts into a tape recorder without pause. These narratives are ones that have zero authorial intrusion to interrupt the narrative, and suddenly, there’s only the character: the author just so happens to have his name on the cover for transcribing these thoughts. This is what Bret Easton Ellis does with American Psycho. I highly recommend the book if you want to learn how to write better characters, because BEE totally lets Patrick Batemen be Patrick Batemen: not once throughout the entire book do we hear a peep of what might be BEE. The first third of the novel is totally embellished in brand names and superfluous adventures, the second third serves as a kind of purgatory, while the final act is served to us a la magical realism which is done in a way that I don’t think anyone can top. BEE is a method writer.

Method writers give themselves up to the character and allow the character(s) to drive the story: they don’t say a word, they just write it down like the observer of a support group. For this matter, method writers will often times write the best and worst books. The best because they are so good, so real, and manage to really portray a human being and not a fabrication: you forget that they are just that, though, a fabrication. They can also be the worst though because, like American Psycho, you only have the character to depend on to break up the narrative; you’ll often get full days as chapters with no exclusions. A chapter in American Psycho is titled ‘Morning” and simply describes every little detail of Patrick Bateman’s morning and his apartment. While the chapter does have some literary significance, when reading it for the first time open minded, one continues to flip forward to learn when the chapter ends, and it seemingly doesn’t. You get lost in all the products and little embellishments and description that Ellis throws at you. For this matter, chapters like this, make stream-of-consciousness narratives a slog to get through, but in the end, you have to admire that it was a rewarding experience. SOC narratives are often a breath of fresh air because they are both active and sedentary creatures for your brain, and if you allow yourself to fall too much asleep while reading them, you will lose yourself.

So, today’s homework? Become a method writer. Write a first person narrative that has no authorial intrusion at all, that just gives itself to the character. It doesn’t have to be a SOC narrative, but it needs to be pretty damn close if you want to write a convincing narrative that makes the reader feel like this character is real. In order to further your experience, spend time thinking how this character would think: speak how you want this character to speak, dress how this character should dress, and really become this character before you sit down to write this character. Throughout the day, interview this character in your head, really get to the bottom of why he’s doing what he’s doing in the story, and study him: what are his gestures, what are some of his catchphrases and repeated phrases? What are his ideas, hopes, dreams: learn this character like you want him to be your best friend, and speaking of that: what does he do on the weekends? Is he free? This character is now your best friend, and you’re going to write about him, so get to it!

Furthermore, look up the Chuck Palahniuk essay, “Submerging the I”, this is a great essay about how to keep the reader engaged in the story and keep the adventure communal instead of private; this could help you while writing your Method Piece.

Have a good weekend!