Writing with Stanislavski.

This week while planning my new novel and thinking about my main character, I stumbled across the Stanislavski Method.  This is actually a way for actors to inhabit their characters  and give a more authentic performance, but it applies to writing equally as well (not to be confused with ‘The Method slash De Niro’ way of doing things which seems to involve actually being the character night and day and driving everyone around you and yourself quite bonkers).

This is the thing I like about research and thinking time.  You sometimes end up going off on tangents that you never expected or planned, but they give you a whole new perspective on how to work.  The Stanislavski Method is particularly challenging for me because it goes against my usual approach, but hey, no-one ever said you’re done learning how to write.

So firstly, here’s the method:

1. For each scene, for each line in fact, the character’s objectives, obstacles and method have to be identified.  So in other words, the objective is what the character whats, the obstacle is what she has to overcome to get it, and the method is the way she gets it.  This is easy within an overall story arc, it boils down to the components of conflict, and even within every scene you still need this narrative drive.  But every line is where the challenge really lies.

2.  ‘The Magic If’ — This is where the actor asks themselves ‘What would I do if I was in this situation?’  This doesn’t ask the actor to become the character (see De Niro), it’s more a case of searching the resources of the actor’s own experience to make a connection, bring some personal understanding about the character’s dilemma.

3. The Internal Monologue.  Once the first two are in place the actor has enough understanding of the character to know how she thinks, that stream-of-consciousness that makes her who she is finally coming into play.

And then, my dear audience, the drama begins.

As a writer, I particularly like the simplicity of the objective, obstacle, method process of thinking about a character.  To me the method is the key.  How a character deals with a situation (does she hide away and pretend it’s not happening, does she look for clever ways to skirt around the problem, does she plunge headlong into her objective regardless of the consequences?), this is what makes us care about her, want to know what she’s going to do next and root for her as she finds her own haphazard way of overcoming those obstacles.  Even if she is unpredictable and full of contradictions (and most of the best characters are), how she acts and reacts also makes the reader think, What would I do in this situation?

As a reader, I ask myself this question all the time.  With someone else’s character it seems easy, I suppose because I recognise the difference between the reality of myself and the fiction of a character.  But to ask the question of my own characters is a different matter.  I always think of them as separate to myself, even though I know each and every one of them is an aspect of my sub-conscious.  But this method seems to ask me to seek out those aspects and recognise them, use them as part of the process.  Perhaps I shy away from this because I don’t want to acknowledge certain aspects of my own personality, or maybe I just lack the necessary imagination (that will be the writer’s insecurity kicking in now).  Whatever the reason, I have a fascination with the creative process, so my objective over the coming weeks is to try this new approach.  My obstacle is myself.  The method?  Well, we shall see…

One thought on “Writing with Stanislavski.

  1. I really like when a technique from one discipline can be taken and used in another like this – I think it’s where a lot of the great innovations come from. And while I’d heard of the Stanislavski method in reading about films, I’d never thought to try applying it to writing. I’ll have to give this a try next time I’m writing, so thanks for the idea.

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