Tell me if you know this one.
A girl flies to another continent (country, time zone, zip code) to get engaged to a guy only instead of getting engaged, he tells her he's met someone else and it wasn't like they were even serious because they lived on different continents (countries, time zones, zip codes) so she flies home, sobbing, to her friend who says "Poor Baby" and "Just remember how this feels so you can write about it."
Or maybe you know this one.
It is time for reviews at work and your boss calls you in. You are thinking, wow. Maybe I'll get a raise. And your boss says, "We're eliminating your job. Here's a month's pay and three months' health insurance." And your friend says, "Poor Baby" and "Just remember how this feels so you can write about it."
That's right. Remember how this feels so you can write about it.
Yes. It's the Method Acting School of Writing. Like Stanislavski himself were leading us through sense memory exercises. Writers are told to dig deep into their memories, their experiences, their emotions and put it on the page.
Or more like, aren't we lucky we've gone through painful (or joyful) things because we can write about it better. After all, a writer is supposed to write what she (or he) knows.
But seriously, what do we know? Not a lot. Then again, should not knowing something stop writers from becoming god? Do we dive into that imagination that has been honing itself since Ms Martindale in fourth grade told us to open our math books to page 43 and do the first twelve problems or do we spend time revisiting our ups and downs of our past to give authenticity to our characters?
Constantin Stanislavsky would instruct his clients in the Actors Studio to revisit over and over, What would motivate me, the actor, to behave in the way the character does? Do I simply replace actor with writer? No, wait, that doesn't make sense. Let's tweak it a bit. What would motivate my character to behave in this way? And because we want to illustrate an arc within our story, What would motivate him or her to change?
Do we draw that arc from ourselves? Our own experiences? Or imagine ourselves in the character's shoes? Remember what rejection feels like by re-reading comments from a contest judge or what joy feels like by recalling a scorching hot kiss with Daniel Craig. (Well, writers ARE god. We are creating these universes. Why not Daniel Craig?)
Ahh. See. Right there. I did it. I stepped away from what I knew (Daniel Craig) and mentioned what I didn't know (rejection from contest judges). Are we as writers limited to what we know? Do we draw on our own experiences as we create our characters? If so, than Suzanne Collins, I am so sorry. (and Thomas Harris, I do not want to meet you in a brightly lit mall let alone dark alleyway.)
Yet there is much as writers that we can learn from Stanislavsky. Even as he sought "theatrical truth" so too can I seek literary truth. Whether I am writing a romance, set in Spain and England, or a suspense set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, I must portray my characters with integrity. How would Lucian show he is angry? Or Phoebe her fear of losing her child?
Generally, I find myself using the Improv approach to my plotting, rather than going as deeply and richly into a universe as is demanded by Method. And I tend to grow irritated when told to "save it and write it" when it comes to sharing my own experiences with friends. But as frightened as I am of so intricately plotting a group of characters and carefully constructing their arcs, of including only those scenes that actually matter to the outcome of the book rather than those that I just loved writing, I must bow to Stanislavski and his Method, and embrace at the very least his call for Truth.
Even if I have to take a break from Daniel Craig to do it.