Method Writing

The latest news features some writer, who wrote stories about murder, now himself accused of a gruesome torture and murder. I won’t bring any more attention to this story, but it did remind me of a stupid new trend in writing that I read about, called “method writing.”

Method writing is apparently employing the same types of techniques that are used in method acting, where actors try to get into character, making their real-life surroundings similar to those experienced by the character. And just like method acting, method writing is equally pointless.

I’m not an actor so maybe I’m not qualified to say what is and isn’t a good acting technique. But the brilliant writer and director, David Mamet, has spent plenty of time around actors in theatre and in movies. In one of his books he refers to conveying emotion to the audience. He says, “Nobody cares what you, the actor feel.”

The bottom line is, you can run a three-day marathon, binge on drugs and brood, or speak with a German accent all you want. If you can’t convey the character on the screen or the page, none of it matters. And as little sense as it makes for an actor to spend all day wearing a straight-jacket to play a character from an insane asylum when you can simply pretend (or, you know, act) it makes even less sense for a writer.

If you’re writing any story other than one where a character is in absolute solitude, you’re going to be writing from various perspectives and points of views. Even in first-person narrative, you will at the very least need to write about other characters. These other characters need to be well-rounded just as much as your main character. So if you’re writing in method, are you really going to change the elements of your surroundings every time another person is mentioned?

For instance, let’s say there’s a scene in your story where there are three characters in the room talking about their plan to save the world. One character’s main trait is that they are uncomfortable in their own skin. They are easily annoyed by everyone. So for method writing you find a bed of jagged rocks to sit on while you write.

The second character is a stoner teenager. For method writing you put on some music you listened to in high school and smoke pot.

The third character is a British girl who loves being around nature. So for her, you put on your coat with the Union Jack patch, speak with an accent to yourself, and run to the woods to write.

Okay, great, rime to write. You find a group of uncomfortable, jagged rocks near the highway where the traffic is loud and annoying. You write the first character’s actions and dialogue.

You rush home, put on some Goo Goo Dolls, roll a joint, and smoke while you write character number two.

You need to nap for a bit to clear away the light-headedness from the joint. After you wake up, you find your jean jacket with the Union Jack, and start practicing your cockney accent while you find a good spot in the woods. Then you write character number three.

Congratulations, after four hours, you’ve written three lines of dialogue and a bit of action.

There are plenty of reasons not to like method writing, but the main one is it seems very easy to make excuses and be prevented from writing if your surroundings aren’t just so. A common thing for writers, even famous writers, is to put on some music as they write. There’s nothing wrong with this, but if you’re spending twenty minutes to find the best song for your scene, you might want to question if you’re being counter-productive.

Method writing isn’t to be confused with doing research. Research before writing about a character or subject is great, even if this research involves partaking in certain activities. But you don’t need to go too far with these activities either. It’s more about conveying it on the page than experiencing it in your head.

Like Mamet said about actors, the same can be said about writers. Nobody cares what you, the writer feel.





About Robert Steele

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