Sunday, April 1, 2012

"Going There" in Fiction (aka What Bradley Cooper Taught Me About Writing)

Research for my latest WIP has taken me deep into the psyche and world of famous actors. It started with uncovering celebrity norms and exploring experiences with fame. But the deeper I got, the more I got sidetracked by actors discussing the breakdown of story, emotion, and character development.

You might be surprised to learn how many famous actors commonly considered garden variety comedians or just "pretty faces" have undertaken years of acting training. And make no mistake, these people take that education very seriously.

The actors I researched all discussed the process of really inhabiting a character. I couldn't get over the correlation between an actor's and a writer's process. Things like:

- Knowing or creating backstory.

- Understanding what a character wants in any given scene.

- Being responsive to the stimulus offered by other characters, rather than just waiting for their turn to speak or move.

Sound familiar?

Regardless of the approach they took, a dozen different actors raised the same issue: Until they stopped judging themselves and gave themselves (and other people) the freedom to see them get it wrong, they weren't capable of their best work.

The thing that really dropped my jaw, though, was when I heard Bradley Cooper talk about how his Basic Techniques professor at The Actor's Studio in New York, created for him "the place I feel safest in the world... In my whole life, I never really felt relaxed until I worked with her." All because she encouraged him to get real and let go - and promised no judgement of the result.

Then I heard Ralph Fiennes talk about being given the freedom to fail.

Edward Norton talked at length about needing to be able to do it wrong, to find out what was right.

The list goes on.

I started to see that all of us creative, story-teller types share this hang up with being seen to fail. But these guys who were at the top of their games had all observed one thing:

Other people can help you learn that you need to fail sometimes in order to win. But no one else is inside your head. Until you stop judging yourself, put your pride aside and let yourself admit to being wrong sometimes, there will always be a part of you holding back. Your work won't completely "Go There" because you're working out of a basis of fear, instead of "What happens if I try this....?"

So today I want to challenge myself (and you) to ask if you're strong enough to get it wrong, then keep going until you get it right. Because I have a hunch the key to being the best writers we can be starts there.

Your Turn: In what ways do you hold back in your writing out of fear? What would help you gain the courage to Go There?

1 comment:

  1. I think you're absolutely spot on with this. I think we can avoid taking risks with our writing because we don't want to 'make mistakes', and what that means is we end up producing something that is stock standard. Some of my favourite books break lots of 'rules' and are all the better for it. I'd love to be driven by excitement of success rather than fear of failure, but I think I might have to settle for feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

    By the way, I tagged you and gave you another award on my blog. I won't be offended if you don't 'play', just wanted you to know. :-)