Acting and Writing: More Compatible than Many May Believe 

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Every time I mention that I’m in college to someone I ever just met, they inevitably ask the most common follow-up question: “What’s your major?” 

This question requires me to explain: “I’m a double emphasis, studying acting and screenwriting.” 

It doesn’t normally draw a vocal comment other than the generic ones that everyone receives: “That’s cool.” “Sounds fun.” “Interesting.” Or perhaps yet another follow-up question: “How’s that going?” “Do you like it?” “How busy does it keep you?” 

However, despite the lack of interested responses, most people would not pair acting and writing in one person. On the one hand, the stereotypical actors: outgoing, extroverted, goofy. On the other, the stereotypical writers: withdrawn, introverted, serious. Those two trait sets do not easily mix; they are, after all, exact opposites. Because of these stereotypes, one wouldn’t think, “You know what would be great? An actor-writer!” 

Said statement isn’t wrong, however. 

If there is one thing that both acting and writing have in common, it’s their search for the truth. Ask any (good) acting teacher and they’ll tell you that acting is about the truth of the moment. Stanislavski and his method are really all about that. Ask any (good) writing teacher and they’ll tell you similarly, that writing is about the truth of the characters’ actions, feelings, reactions. Read Stephen King’s “On Writing” and he’ll tell you exactly that. 

As an actor-writer myself, I can attest to the compatibility of these two fields. Both require a deep understanding of human nature in order to convey the truth to an audience. One simply does it visually, the other verbally. Combining the two leads to a greater understanding. Acting allows a writer insight into the inner workings of humanity. Writing allows an actor insight into the complexity of relationships and actions. Together, the actor-writer has a deeper, fuller, more well-rounded understanding of human nature. 

Not all actors are outgoing, extroverted, goofy, just as not all writers are withdrawn, introverted, serious. Not all people fall into one category other than “human.” Not all people in one group fall into one category other than the grouping itself: “soccer team,” “class,” “family.” Each of us is more complex than the most intricate machine, no matter how many gears, gags, and whirligigs make it what it is. 

That’s part of what makes humanity so interesting. We are all complex. We are all interesting. We are all unique. Some people can act. Good on them. Some people can write. Good on them. Some can do math or science or engineering. Good on them. We all have different talents, skills, capabilities. We have to learn to appreciate the ones we have, accept the ones we don’t have, and work together with the ones whose strengths complete our weaknesses. 

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My Apologies

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Wow! It’s been so long since I’ve posted! I’m so sorry. To myself more than anyone. This was supposed to be a way to get me writing every single day, and I’ve missed quite a few. I’ve been super busy (and tired!) the past few days, so forgive the absence of a daily post. I’ll try to get back into the swing of things, starting with doing my writing earlier in the day than I’m used to. I typically wait until it’s late at night and I just don’t have the energy. I promise I’ll do better, starting today. 

I will most definitely have a story up sometime today, I guarantee you! Be on the lookout for something fantastic! I’ve got a few ideas up my sleeve that I’ve been working on… 

Validation

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Every writer needs validation from time to time. Hell, every human being needs validation from time to time. It’s part of what let’s us know that we are talented and appreciated, especially in times of doubt or worry when we feel particularly vulnerable to the ways of the world around us. Ways we know will tear us down if we let our guard down for too long, even by just a fraction. 

Sometimes the smallest thing can turn a person’s world upside down, like hearing their characters are relatable or like hearing that people want to continue to read what they’ve written. It sends a burst of joy dancing through my veins, racing through my body from head to toe, starting a party in my mind as I think about what such simple feedback may mean for me. 

It gives me hope and encourages me. It tells me that I am actually not completely terrible at what I do. It helps me to see that I’m not a hopeless case after all. All this from a simple phrase or two. A single “Good job!” can life the weight off a nervous worrier’s shoulders. A simple “I want more!” can change their lives. Or at the very least their perspectives, their courage, their confidence. 

Sometimes, a little encouragement is the best treatment for a case of the doubts, the best medication. So find your resident writer friend and give them a little meaningful feedback. They’ll appreciate it for sure. 

…but please let it be meaningful. 

The Benefits of Roleplay

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For the past two and a half ueats, I have found myself regularly involved in at least one game of Dungeons and Dragons, as I believe I may have mentioned. Tonight, I found myself involved in another roleplay game, which was equally (if not slightly more) enjoyable. It always helps to surround yourself with good friends when role-playing, people you’re comfortable with, but over the years, I have realized how beneficial these types of games can be for actor’s and writers and storytellers of all varieties. 

First, the characters. In roleplay, you must learn to ad lib and adapt. To what your character is like. To what the other characters are like. To what is being said or done or kept secret. This is very important for storytellers to note: the different ways characters react to the situations in their lives, what makes them human, what makes them tick, how they I tract with the others around them. It’s very eye-opening. 

Secondly, the plot. With roleplay games, often times parts of the plot fall on the shoulders of the players to decide. You decide how you react and what your action is, which in turn affects the rest of the story as it unfolds. It’s important to keep an eye on these things, what builds the story, what pieces come together to create this world and this particular story within that world. Having an understanding of what plot points make sense and work best for the story will allow you to unfold the best possible version of your story. 

Thirdly, the experimentation. In roleplay, you get to experiment with different characters to figure out what makes them tick and what separates them from the crowd. Maybe they always wear a blue shirt because in third grade, they won a race while wearing a blue shirt so blue became their lucky color. Or maybe they treat men coldly because their father treated them horribly. Maybe they went off the rails because they witnessed a friend’s death. Or maybe they try to keep optimistic for the sake of others because they don’t believe themselves worthy of the good news. Roleplay opens up a whole new world in which you can let yourself go and experiment with whatever you want. 

As an actor, it’s also beneficial (particularly when done in person) because you assume a character. You aren’t playing yourself, you’re playing someone else like with any role. It also helps with ad lib skull, which can be hard to build. Depending on the character, you may assume an accent, which would help you to practice an accent you don’t naturally have. Honestly, when you think about it, roleplay is pretty much the perfect game for any actor. You’re putting yourself in someone else’s shoes in imaginary situations and you have to react truthfully the way this character would. It’s the perfect exercise. 

Overall, I obviously enjoy these roleplay games otherwise I would have stopped playing them a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean that I can glean something from them. Every day I play, I learn a little bit of something new. Isn’t that how life works best? 

Miscellaneous: Short Film

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Here’s another short film that I wrote and directed. Though this one has some cinematic issues, I can say I am proud of the writing in this one. It was kind of a last minute decision to direct it, as I wasn’t sure if I wanted to (or would be able to, rather) hop onto someone else’s project. Eventually, I decided this was a better route for me to take, and it turned out not horribly.

Enjoy Postcards to Paradise!

Action Heroine How-To

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Most action flicks have two different kind of women: the super strong, super brave ones who don’t need anyone to save them and the the weaker, more scared damsels in distress, who do need someone to save them. Usually, there is not much of an in-between. They don’t cross over. They don’t have much of a personality other than that, the brave one or the damsel in distress, and, frankly, it’s disappointing. With characterization like that, they become almost less than human.

Human beings are complex. They are multifaceted. They are not one single personality trait and that alone. Even the bravest people are sometimes scared out of their minds. And sometimes, maybe that person you pegged as the scared one is actually the bravest of them all.

Similarly, you often see that the women in these action flicks quickly become the love interest to the main hero of the story, whether or not the woman is the damsel or the heroine herself. These love stories often feel rushed and even sometimes slightly misplaced–or more than slightly depending on the film. As a screenwriter-in-training at a film school, one of the things we learn is there should be a B story in all our films, which often means a romance (or, in the case of romance films, it’s usually the best friend). However, many writers tend to speed the love story up, so these characters who may have only known each other since a few days ago end up falling madly in love over the course of the film. Ridiculous and unrealistic.

Relegating a woman (or a man for that matter–just any human being, really) to no more than a love interest is, again, creating them to seem almost less than human. In all our complexities and thus our beauty, we are meant for so, so much more than simply romance. It’s dehumanizing to think of any human being as there for no purpose other than to be someone’s lover.

And, again, absolutely ridiculous.

That being said, after my somewhat lengthy introduction, I recently went to see Kong: Skull Island, one of the newest action flicks in theatres. By no means is it a “perfect” movie, but no one really asks any film to be “perfect.” Or at least I don’t. It is a rather relative term, after all. However, it does have two major things going for it, in my perspective, both of which happen to be based around their treatment of Mason Weaver, Brie Larson’s character.

By no means is Mason Weaver merely your textbook action heroine: a strong, kick-ass woman who takes no nonsense from anyone (but especially the men), though she is all that too. They allow her to be afraid, which, to be honest, anyone would be–should be–when facing a giant creature like King Kong. They allow her to need help and to give help at the same time. They allow her to care and to work for what she believes in. They allow her to be witty, as shown in her introduction to the rest of the group:

“Mason Weaver is a woman?”

“Last I checked.”

She isn’t merely anything. Personally, I think that is beautiful and more true to life. No human being that I’ve ever met is merely one thing–or even merely two or three or four things. We are all these complex creatures with hopes and desires and fears and pasts and an entire assortment of other things that haunt us, that make us who we are. It’s refreshing to see an action hero, particularly an action heroine, who is allowed to be more than the textbook character.

Additionally, I love the way they handle the interaction between Weaver and James Conrad, Tom Hiddleston’s character. Nothing between them screams something that would only happen between love interests, and yet you know that they are setting them up for something in the future continuation of the franchise. The way the director framed them, always in a two-shot, always side by side in the larger group. The way the writers kept throwing them together for conversations, learning about each other, dealing with the situation in which they find themselves, working together. The way the actors play them. It’s in the subtleties.

Again, this is much more true to life. It isn’t accelerated to fit the span of one film. It isn’t forced, isn’t shoved in our faces. The seeds of romance have been planted, which is how life works. You don’t meet someone and instantly fall in love. It takes time. You want to get to know them. You want to experience life with them. You want to experience who they are as a human being. All of that takes more than a few days. Refreshing to find something that maybe actually will get it right.

Now, I’m no film critic. I’ve only just recently started forming my own opinions about movies. Thank you, film school, for that! These are simply my thoughts. They were the only things I could really think about coming out of the theatre. They were the things that I told my roommate when I got  back. They were the things I told my mom when I gave her my brief description of what I thought about the film. Obviously, they are the things that stood out to me, that matter to me, and hopefully, they will be the things that I can some day incorporate into my own screenplays and other forms of writing.

The Writerly Excuse

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Over the past couple years, I have gotten heavily involved in playing Dungeons and Dragons. Currently, I am part of three different groups, two of which play online. For obvious reasons, this involves writing, which, to some extent, makes playing the game easier for me. It gives me a little bit more time to think about what I want to do or say, rather than needing to come up with something almost instantaneously.

My written roleplay skills have obviously shone through.

Last night, in one of my two online games, we spent the entire session mourning a fallen companion and deciding how to bury him. With all the characters originating from different worlds, this became slightly problematic, because we had to find a way to combine the different funeral rites in order to please us all. It became especially difficult since we didn’t know how our fallen companion’s people handled deaths.

This gave me the opportunity to get more creative with things. While everyone else debated whether or not we should burn him or bury him, I found myself on Wikipedia looking up different forms of burial, in order to create something that would seem both realistic and unique. I didn’t want to be just another “burn him!” or “bury him!” voice. And so I created a new ritual for my character’s people and her world. The deceased’s loved ones would take tufts of his hair and weave it into necklaces that they wore as a reminder and as a (perhaps superstitious) form of protection. They would also offer a sacrifice to the gods of whatever it was that killed the deceased, whether that be the pack of wolves that mauled him, the disease that attacked his body, or simply old age that took him in his sleep.

These rituals of course went hand in hand with spoken words, as such things typically do. As I typed out my words and submitted it to the rest of the group to see, I received feedback. I had apparently made one of my fellow players cry. And before I could get to a response, our Dungeon Master, the man in charge of running the game, quickly typed out: She’s a writer.

Which, admittedly, was exactly the response that I had been meaning to give.

Funny how that works. When someone’s words touch or move or disturb someone, the first place we go is their profession. Often times, the person works in some field that requires the mincing of words, the stringing of words together to form just the right response. And that becomes our response, our excuse, to why their words had such an effect.

I call it “the writerly excuse.”