Tuesday, April 26, 2011


When I was in college, I took some theater classes. Some acting, mostly playwriting. I was cast as a Texan mother of a recalcitrant Texan teenager in a short play at some point, and in one scene I had to get increasingly worked up while said daughter refused to come out of her room to meet an important suitor. I memorized my lines, and had to wear a wig. (My hair was growing back after being shaved off, and the play was set in the '50s. A Texas woman could not, apparently, sport a mauve Tank Girl hair cut in the '50s.) We rehearsed.

The director told me to put more energy into the scene.

I did.

The director told me to put more energy in the scene.

I thought I did.

The director took the "door" (We were working on a spartan set where there was furniture, but no walls, so the door was literally just a door in a frame with some kind of chinzy plywood flying buttresses) and tweaked it so that it jammed. *

The next day, at rehearsal, when I went to open the door and let in the suitor, the entire door came with the knob. At me. It wasn't heavy, and he and I managed to catch it before I pulled a Buster Keaton, without the opening in the house. And goddamn, did I have energy during that scene. Actual adrenaline coursing through my veins, the same as a '50s mother might have had while trying to convince her daughter not to actively spurn and embarrass a suitor who was the son of an influential family.

Before that, you see, I was pretending to act. I was so caught up in "doing acting" for lack of a better term, that I wasn't actually acting like this woman. Also, may accent was atrocious.

The same thing happens in writing. We get so busy showing what's going on with our characters, zooming in on those meaningful looks, fist-clenching and lip-nibbling that all the energy is taken out of the characters and, because of that, out of the scene. We're so focused on showing reactions and programming emotional tension that we lose the actual emotion.

In any of my first drafts, I'll have at least a paragraph a chapter that consists of time stopping so that I can show reactions instead of just letting my characters move through their embarrassment or pain or joy. I haven't yet come up with the authorial equivalent of dropping a door on them, but I'm working on it.

And now, because I love it, some info-dumping from STRANGE BREW:

* I don't actually know that she did this. In fact, I'm inclined to believe that she did not. Still, it worked wonders.


  1. I love that you had a 'Tank Girl cut' - Tank Girl is my hero! :D

  2. Great post! I'll definitely remember the dropping-a-door image, and hopefully I'll manage to do some door-dropping myself when my writing gets bogged down. Thanks for this! :)

  3. Hi Hillary. I need this door on my writer's block... LOL
    Have a nice day!

    - EEV

  4. GF - I still <3 her the best!!

    Thank-you, April.

    Shari - It was a good thing I thought of it when I did...rewrote four pages into one, and it's waaay better. :)

    EEV - Sounds like you might need to slam some doors and open a few others. Good luck!