by Lillian Csernica on August 7, 2013
Hollywood Sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I think actors and writers have a lot in common. No matter what you’re really feeling inside, what your personal emotional climate is, if you’re a committed professional you just get your act together and do the job. I’ve heard Hollywood gossip about how the two stars hated each other in real life but still had to act out a convincing love scene. The one actor would make sure to eat garlic and onions or some other repulsive food right before a kissing scene. The other actor/actress couldn’t really go whining to the director about it. The show had to go on. This, by the way, illustrates why I tend to avoid collaboration, even though I’ve done so successfully with two other writers. Unless there is an usual degree of empathy/sympathy between me and the other writer, the Garlic and Onions Factor will arise. I’m not much of a team player and I have issues with group dynamics, so maybe it’s just me.
Writers have to fabricate emotions too. It always makes me laugh when I hear how readers build up mental images of the writer of their favorite books, then the readers are just poleaxed to discover the writer is nothing at all like they imagined. Raymond Chandler said, “If you like a book, don’t meet the author.” Just as people confuse actors and actresses with the roles they play, so writers can become “typecast” in a particular genre. I write romance under a pen name for this very reason. If a typical romance reader were to go looking for my romance novel under my real name, she would run into my weird fiction, dark fantasy, and horror. Niche readers are niche readers, so that reader would most likely assume when it comes to romance I write something like the Twilight series or 50 Shades of Gray. (Not gonna happen.) People have asked me why I write horror. Before I can answer them, I have to find out what the person asking the question means by horror. Once we both understand what I mean by horror re a particular story, then I can give an answer that’s accurate and sincere. “Fallen Idol” is pretty gross by my personal standards. “The Screaming Key” includes a few of my own nightmares, such that I don’t do public readings of the story because I can’t get through it without bursting into tears. Then there’s “Special Interests,” where two serial killers meet by chance through a dating service. To me (and my co-author, Kevin Andrew Murphy), that story is hilarious. Somebody from church asked me what I was working on, so I tried to explain that story and why it’s so funny. Let’s just say I never made that mistake again.
People also make all kinds of assumptions about romance writers. Here are a few comments I’ve over heard at conventions and elsewhere:
“Oh, she must write about all that sex because she never gets any in real life.”
“Romance writers are all such tubs! It figures. They only write about what they can’t have.”
“How sad. Those women must be really lonely.”
First, I’d like to point out that several romance writers with female pen names are in fact men. The great Jennifer Wilde, goddess of the romance industry in the ’70s, was a man. Recently a revered British romance writer was revealed to be a man in his eighties. That caused considerable uproar. Why? I think the real reason so many of his readers got upset was they suddenly had to reevaluate how they had responded to a man writing from a woman’s point of view, especially about such personal matters as love and sex. He must have been quite convincing, given how many books he’d published!
Also, just for the record, let me answer the above three quotations in regard to myself by saying I based the physical appearance of my hero in SHIP OF DREAMS, Alexandre de Marchant, on my own husband. Believe me when I tell you I’m not missing anything.
So. Actors have to produce emotion on demand. Writers also have to do that. Writers have the leisure of greater creative control, along with the advantage of the editing process. I suppose some really powerful actors can do multiple takes until they’re happy, especially if they’re also directing the movie. How do actors spin gold out of straw emotionally? There’s Stanislavski’s Method, Lee Strasberg‘s approach, and the Meisner techniques. It also has a lot to do with sense memory and how much the actor resembles the character he or she is playing. Samuel L. Jackson is an interesting study in contrasts. People who have met him in person comment on what a quiet, polite gentleman he is. Confused fans apparently expect him to be larger than life, ranting like a dictator and spewing profanities 24/7. I don’t know how he feels about snakes in real life, but I do know he’s cool enough to make sure his character had the only purple lightsaber any Jedi will ever see.
Back to writers. How do we keep on making it up as we go along? How do we keep it real, even when it’s fiction? Here’s the really important question: How do we keep creating the emotion that we need to write about when our real feelings run totally counter to that? Writers have the advantage of writing whatever part of the story they feel like working on at the time. I know only one writer who has to work in strict chronological order. So when I’m angry, I write a fight scene. When I’m sad, I use that where I can get the most mileage out of it. There does come the time when deadlines loom and you just have to crank out what’s required at that moment. I’ve been in some ungodly roaring battles with my husband and then gone back to work, where I had to create some delicate moment of emotional revelation in my romance novel. (How to exert conscious control over adjusting your mood is a good topic for tomorrow.)
Writers are liars. We make it all up. Our characters aren’t real. Our settings may or may not exist. The stories themselves are collections of events that have never happened and probably never will. So how do we make the readers laugh and cry and bite their nails and stay up all night because they’ve GOT to know what happens next? We do it the same way the actors do it. We establish cause for sympathy with our heroes and heroines. We make their feelings as real and genuine as we possibly can, and we do that by dredging our own hearts and spirits for the raw material we process via creative alchemy into a story the reader can believe in.
Make your readers believe, even if it means channeling parts of yourself that you really don’t want to share. You want the content, the energy, not the details. Pour that energy, that feeling, into the story, and the machinery of the imagination will carry both you and your readers away.