Have you heard of method acting? It's a technique where you try to disappear into your character's thought processes and emotions as you act, instead of just emulating their reactions and such. You try to completely become the character.
I used to think, "That would be a really cool thing to do, but I can't do it." However, one of the most important techniques I've learned regarding writing is actually 'method writing,' which is similar to method acting.
In method writing, you become the character you're writing. Instead of thinking, "What would this character be feeling?", you close your eyes, hear the words in your head, and feel that sadness, that anger, that exasperation.
While it takes practice (and is also too tiring to do on a regular basis), it is very, very useful.
I chiefly use it for two purposes: 1) sarcasm and verbal banter, and 2) generally unrelatable characters.
Sarcasm and Verbal Banter
Let's say that your character is fairly intelligent, and is currently being confronted by a person he hates. The person says the following unsophisticated comment:
- "I hate your face!"
Well, usually, I wouldn't be able to write an adequate comeback. I would just shrug my shoulders and leave. However, my character wouldn't do this, so at this point, I close my eyes, sit back in my chair, and try to hear those words in my ears.
Generally, I first feel irritation, but as I repeat the line in my ears, it becomes something akin to anger. I want to get back at this punk. I want to show them their place.
With these feelings, usually, the apt retort comes to me.
- A: "I hate your face!"
- B: "The mirror's over there."
Generally Unrelatable Characters
I've run into this situation many times. I'm supposed to write the scene from the point of view of a child, or a psychopath, or someone who's hallucinating. I try my ordinary technique - basing my writing off of some experience or another - but clearly, that will come up short.
So, it's time to become the character.
The brain is an interesting thing. It doesn't matter that I'm not actually hallucinating - I can force myself to feel lightheaded, or my vision can begin to twist. It doesn't matter that I don't actually want to hurt anyone - I can immerse myself into the mindset of a sadistic killer.
Offbeat. Mentally deranged. Quirky. Simplistic. You build yourself up with the characters memories and feel their emotions and reactions.
This is, of course, actually fairly dangerous for mental health, so it's something that should be limited as much as possible. (There are times when I've come away from an experience feeling shaken, realizing that there are people who actually genuinely enjoy causing pain/sorrow, etc.) But it's a very enlightening exercise. For short term.
As said before, while this technique generates extremely authentic writing, it's also pretty taxing for the more difficult characters.
It's easy to immerse into the mindset of someone like you - a college student, an average citizen, a white collar worker - but for people with mental disabilities or psychological disorders, it gets tiring quick.
Have you guys ever tried method writing? How did you find it? Is it something you do regularly, or only for special occasions?