Friday, February 10, 2012

Do Writers Have To Be Method Actors?

Before the magical day I signed my first book contract, I lived a life on stage.  But I was NOT a method actor.  Method actors believe you can't truly convey emotions or experiences unless you've lived them.  These are people who will - I kid you not - try cocaine if they are cast as a drug addict.  I swear that is not an exaggeration.  Then there are those of us who believe the whole point of acting is...wait for it...that you act.  You pretend.  You don't need to rush out and bungee jump from skyscrapers if you're cast as Spiderman.  You don't need to hold up a bank if you're cast as a bank robber.

Then I became a writer.  I promise that all the research I conducted on drug smuggling in the Caribbean for my third book was done solely on the Internet.  And although I made it sound really sexy and exciting in my fourth book, I've never made out in an elevator (due to the whole phobia about the cable snapping and hurtling 20 stories to the ground.  Kind of kills the libido).  The fanciful twists and turns come from my head, not necessarily from real life.

Except.....I recently contracted to write a Christmas novella.  And then burst into a panic that I wouldn't be feeling the Christmas spirit for another ten months, so how on earth could I do it?  I demanded my husband bring up all the holiday music he'd so carefully packed away in the basement just a few weeks prior.  My plan is to (although I almost never write to music) have it blasting in the background every time I sit down to write.

It didn't take me long to decide I was being irrational.  Although it would be fun, for example, to (if I was fabulously wealthy) to move to Chicago for three months while I write my next book that's set there, there's no need.  I don't write day scenes exclusively in the day, or night scenes exclusively at night.  I don't strip down to a corset and garter belt to write love scenes.  So why on earth do I have this hang up about Christmas?

Maybe because it is such a special time of year.  Despite grocery stores starting with their Christmas push as early as August (noted with disgust last year as I shopped for my beach vacation!), in my house the season begins the day after Thanksgiving, and ends on New Years Day.  Encapsulating it heightens the anticipation and sets it apart.  Only now I have to dive into the joy and festiveness of the season while I'm knee deep in hearts and chocolate.

I may end up still playing some of those holiday cds, but I'm sure I can muddle through either way.  What about you?  Is there anything you feel MUST be experience before you can write about it?


  1. Gosh I hope not or I'm screwed since I'm writing about time travel ;) Sometimes I have acted out dialogue to see what my body language does...and then use that for descriptions

  2. Well that sounds about right. You have writer's paranoia. I get it all the time. I think I have to immerse myself in darkness to write a book based in a dark world. But it's not true. Just close your eyes and you can be may not be able to see what you're writing, but you can see the scene and feel the feelings (at least I can). Any misspelled words can be edited later. Good luck writing a Christmas story...that's something I don't have the courage to do.

  3. I think you have to have sex before you can write a sex scene! I don't think a virgin could write a convincing sex scene. That said, I certainly haven't done everything I've written about.

  4. Yeah, what Cara said. To be an erotica writer (which is a good chunk of what I write), you have to have had some experiences of the kind of sex you're writing about. There are mechanics of things I test out, too, which don't require actual sex, but just testing out how body parts or props move. This is a common error, apparently, among new erotica writers -- writing things that are not physically possible.

    But I also do a lot of research. Two of my most successful stories were about softball players (I've never played it) and women with cancer (never had it). In the first case, I interviewed a friend who played softball for years. In the second, I mostly wrote based on what I knew and then checked things out with friends who knew more about the kinds of cancer I was writing about. My favorite comments about those stories were when people asked me, or assumed, that I'd played softball or that I was a cancer survivor.

    Right now I'm writing a story involving a painter, and I've done a lot of research for that, because I know nothing about painting. I'm hoping to "fool" the reader. That said, I recently wrote an essay that involved breaking up, and I listened to break-up songs while writing to try to give me ideas for subheads. Normally I can't even tolerate music, so it was an interesting experience. It worked. I got my subheads.