Being A Method Writer

There’s a very popular style of acting called Method Acting, in which the idea is that the actor embodies the character to be played, and draws on his or her own experiences to achieve a better portrayal. It is a style usually classified as immersive, and it can lead some actors to stay in role even after the performance has stopped.

I am not an actor, but I have discovered, and accepted, that I am a method writer. The definition found in Urban Dictionary nails it:

A writer or author who uses a technique of writing in which he/she identifies emotionally with a character in the story and assumes that character’s persona in the telling.

When I am writing a story, especially a longer one, I get into my protagonist’s head space so I can understand them better and thus achieve a better narrative.

The one problem with this approach? I get into my protagonist’s head space.

I’ve come to terms with the idea that I write stories in which I have a personal stake. While I am able to churn out a few pieces to specification for a freelance assignment or writing challenge, I mostly write stories that possess me and *must* be told. And more often than not, the way that these stories possess me is via a character, who becomes like an alternate personality until I am able to exorcise them onto the page.

This also means that I live with these characters, and that their lives affect me. When they are happy, I am happy; when they are sad and angry, I get sad and angry. My facial expressions change as I’m writing to match the mood of the scene and sometimes it gets to be too much, too draining, and I need to walk away, remind myself that *I* am the real person, not my character.

The novel I am writing now features a protagonist who was a supporting character in my first novel. She stayed with me long after the novel was done, daring me to find out her story so I could tell it. Her story isn’t necessarily a happy one, and it is taxing to get into the mind of a person with major depressive disorder. But I have to tell her story, so I, we, push through.

Method writing isn’t for everyone, but it is for me. I cannot fathom writing any other way, and if that means that my fiction output is greatly reduced, that’s fine as well, because I know the stories I will tell are those that *had* to be told by me and no one else.

Writing A Female Protagonist

The novel I am writing for this year’s NaNoWriMo features a female main character. What’s more, it’s written in first person, so not only am I writing a female character, I am writing her from inside her mind.

I bring this up for a reason. Because of the online social circles I frequent, because of the people I know, because of the classes I have taken and life I’ve lived, I’m sensitive to issues of gender, cultural appropriation, and privilege. These are lenses through which I filter life, especially things I create. So I’m sitting here writing a novel with a female character, it didn’t take long for a voice to erupt in my head saying, “You have no right to do this.”

I am a guy, after all. I might be a member of two minorities (Hispanic and Jewish), but I’m a guy. And I can already hear in my head comments about me putting words in women’s mouths, about me misrepresenting women, about me acting all patriarchal and stuff by controlling this female character. Mind you, no one has said any of this, but what if they do (with “they” being people I know, or people I don’t know)?

This paralyzed me somewhat as I started to write. It even shut me down completely one day. I briefly considered just scrapping the whole idea and moving on to something else. Then I thought better about it.

I hope no one feels that way after reading my story. I hope that I bring an honest voice to my female protagonist that sounds true regardless of her or my gender which will make any comment like the ones above superfluous and unnecessary. I am for nothing less.

Thing is, I can’t worry about the ‘What ifs’. There will always be someone who doesn’t like your work, for whatever reason. It may be that reason is even a valid one. But I can’t let that stop me from writing. My protagonist (Deirdre in this case, but really, any protagonist) is a person, an individual, with hopes and dreams, skills and limitations, who makes good and bad choices. She isn’t meant to represent an entire gender any more than my actions represent my entire gender. So if Deirdre does X or says Y, it reflects only on Deirdre, not on all women.

I’m being slightly paranoid in even thinking that I need to state all this upfront, I know it. In truth, this post isn’t for anyone out there, it’s for myself. It’s so I can get this worry out of my head, where it is blocking the flow of ideas. If it happens to speak to someone else, even better.

If you’ll excuse me, now that I got that off my chest, I need to go back to writing.

Starting The Rewrite Of My Novel With Scrivener

I had one week off from school during which I had originally planned to do the first rewrite of my NaNoWriMo 2011 novel. It was naive of me to think I’d accomplish it, especially because half my week was taken up by taking care of house chores that had been pushed off over the last four months, not to mention I also had to study for an exam I have right upon my return to classes. That said, I did go ahead and transfer my novel from Word into Scrivener.

I’ve been using Scrivener as my writing tool since I got it earlier this year and I absolutely love it. I knew from the start that I wanted to import the novel into it for all subsequent drafts, as I love the organizational tools available, especially for a long project like a novel. Take a look at the screen-cap above to see what I mean.

In Word, the novel was one long text file. That was fine for the first 50-thousand-words-in-30-days draft, but for rewrites I knew it would be a bitch. Scrivener allowed me to break off the manuscript into Parts, Chapters and Scenes. A wonderful thing happened once I had taken the time to reformat the text for Scrivener: I was able to see patterns I simply would have missed in Word.

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What Is Steampunk?

I’ve been intrigued by the Steampunk genre for a while now. I like the visuals of it, the gears and clockwork and pseudo-Victoriana, but it’s a curiosity that has been left at the periphery as other things have taken priority. My friend Mick Bradley is, however, quite into it (he does Steampunk-inspired crafts), so I always have some imagery coming through my social networks thanks to him, keeping it somewhat in my radar. I was happy to leave my interest vague, simply enjoying looking at pics, until last week.

This scene popped into my head some time ago, a scene featuring an airship battle inside a thundercloud, and it fermented there long enough to want to be written down. I didn’t know anything about the characters or story beyond that vague description. So I started writing, and behold, two characters emerged fairly well defined, along with the beginnings of the battle between two airships. In my mind airships are really closely associated with steampunk; along with some of the descriptions and dialogue that came out, it seemed that this is what I was writing right here. Great!

The issue then became, what is this I am writing? Not so much in terms of the story: that I actually have a pretty decent idea what it’ll be by now; but what about this genre I know nothing about?

Understand my approach to genre is very fluid. In general, I don’t care for genre; I always strive to write a good story first, and if it fits in some genre due to X or Y, then fantastic. But I’m also a firm believer of the adage “Know the rules before you can break them.” So I set out to learn at least some basics about Steampunk.

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