The writer's stage: converting acting techniques to the page
Grad student Vicki Wittenstein took some acting lessons to help her get into her characters more and discovered how helpful several acting techniques can be.
One of the techniques is to study a character's actions and his/her objectives in a given scene. A character's actions give rise to emotion, so finding the right action lets the writer show, rather than tell, the appropriate emotion. This is based on Stanislavski's method acting technique.
This approach makes perfect sense to me. As an observer, I like to speculate about what people are thinking/feeling based on their actions and body language. I tend to use this in my own writing.
Vicki also walked us through an excercise to help generate sensory details. She asked us to remember a painful event and then list all the sense memories we could recall. Where were we? What did it look like? What did it feel like? What was the light? What was the weather? Who was there? How did they sound? What were they doing?
After listing details for a couple of minutes, she asked us to pick one of our characters and start with this prompt: [fill in your name], there's a lot you don't know about me. Then we wrote for four or five minutes from the point of view of that character. I learned something pretty surprising that I didn't know before. The parents of my main character fought terribly one night, just a few days before the dad dies in a fire.
Finding an emotion/feeling from my own past to use for a character, and then personalizing the emotions for that character, will be another helpful tool I'll be practicing.