Friday, May 27, 2011

Acting for Writers

Good morning, blogosphere! My name is Laura M. Campbell, a mystery writer from Bucks County, PA. Today, the topic of my guest blog focuses on an acting technique you can employ to improve your writing. 

Let me start off by thanking Misha for allowing me to share the knowledge I acquired from the Pennwriters Conference in Pittsburgh here at My First Book blog.

Pennwriters, my first conference, forever changed me. The community between the authors, speakers and aspiring writers made for an exhilarating and inspirational experience. I absorbed everything possible during the three days and gladly share it with you. If anything catches your interest, please check out the links below.  


Under the tutelage of Kathleen George, published author and theatre professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and Kathryn Miller Haines, actor, mystery writer and award-winning playwright, I learned several acting techniques to enrich my writing to bring a more realistic reading experience to my stories.

Kathleen and Kathryn encouraged the seminar group to pull from our memories, similar to method acting, to create realistic character and scene portrayals to evoke the reader’s emotions and increase their investment in the story. I’m sure most of you do this already, so I won’t waste time explaining.

What I would like to dive into is Cross Purpose Improv. This technique put character interaction into perspective for me. On stage, two actors are separately given back-story and a goal they must accomplish in the scene for their character. Although the back-story is similar, each character interprets their status quo differently, creating two different goals. Accomplishing the goal, whether through dialogue and/or action, becomes the obstacle or conflict.  

Moving from the stage to the page, the reader is aware of both sides about to play out while the characters enter the scene unaware. Tension builds between the characters through the reader. The suspense builds while the characters attempt to reach their goals in the scene.

What’s the end result?

The reader continues on to discover which character reigns victorious. Depending on the characters method of reaching their goal, the Cross Purpose Improv technique can bring high drama or comedy to the story. Either way, your reader is hooked. Quality entertainment and enthralling reading experience is accomplished.

Looking back over your stories and novels, do you know any character interactions that could benefit from this acting technique? Or do you already employ it?


Interested in other seminars from the Pennwriters Conference? Check out these blogs:

Laura M. Campbell @ Writing Unleashed 

Alex @ Magpie Writes 


  1. Fascinating post! I don't act things out, but I try to imagine the characters moving around while they're communicating. I think it helps tremendously. Acting helps with dialogue too, for sure!

  2. Hi Misha went to say hello and wish you
    you have a happy weekend.
    a hug.

  3. Thanks, Ibdiamond. Both Kathryn and Kathleen gave us the backstory of two characters, asked us to choose one and write from their POV. Then they stopped us and asked us to write from the other characters POV. The acting occurred on the page instead of in front of people. A much easier feat for someone who battles with shyness on occasion.

  4. Great post and wonderful points. I do something similar to this often when developing a new character but also in the midst of those already developed. I'll pin them against each other or ask them questions, digging deeper into who they are. I used to be a theater junkie and these were some of the exercises we did. lol

  5. Very interesting! I don't ever act things out and probably never would, but I always picture everything in my head, and I think it especially helps in having natural dialogue.

  6. @salarsen I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Asking questions regarding my characters has really improved their development and my writing.

    @Sarah You don't necessarily have to act it out, you can take the two characters, one at a time, and write on the page from their POV. That works best for me. Unfortunately, I don't possess the ability to visualize certain things in my head. I really need to see it on paper to better understand where I need to go.

  7. What a great idea! I usually try to imagine my character's voices and sometimes I try to say the lines out loud, but I don't think I've ever tried this acting (probably because there's no space in the home office :) ) I shall definitely try this one day.
    Thanks Laura! And thanks Misha! Have a great memorial day weekend, gals!

  8. Fun posts. Sol Stein talks about an experience he had similar to this at a writing class. It's really interesting when the "actor" (really writers) are given opposing information. Talk about conflict.

  9. What a great writing exercise. I used to do that. I would get up out of my chair and act out my character's lines and actions trying to understand them. I think it works!

  10. Great writing exercise Laura. Have a great weekend Misha

  11. I do actually employ it, although it now goes down in my head like a movie. :-)

    I just want to say thanks for your lovely guest post, Laura.

    And anyone who is interested in booking a guest post can just contact me at mishagericke(AT)gmail(DOT)com.

    To all my US readers, enjoy your long weekend!

  12. Great post! As a former actor, I do that sometimes when I'm imagining a scene. Granted, I don't have other people to act it out, but it is helpful to do it in my mind or say the dialogue. It is definitely helpful.

  13. Wonderful post! I've actually never acted out anything like this before. I've spoken dialogue between two characters out loud before. I actually do it quite often!

    But I might be giving this a try soon. I know that there are some scenes that could probably benefit from acting it out.

  14. This is something I'm probably going to have to noodle over for a while. I do sometimes think my brain is a stage and I am simply an observer of the play that unfolds there. Like, sometimes I'll write a scene and when I'm done, sit back and go "whoa," because I didn't know xyz was going to happen. The characters did it. They came so alive in my head that THEY were in charge.

    I put that in association with what you just wrote because I imagine it's sort of like the Cross Purpose Improv where I've thrown these characters onto the stage (my brain) with their backstories (because I know them), their goal (because I usually know that, to some extent, as well) and then let them have at it. I'm just watching to see what they'll do so I can write it down.

    From the stage to the page ... I love it!

  15. Oooh, I love this idea! I routinely read my manuscripts out loud but have never really considered acting them out.

  16. What a really great post, thank you for the great idea....

  17. Laura, thanks for sharing what you learned from Kathleen and Kathryn's seminar at Pennwriters--I didn't get to make it to that one. Some really good ideas there!

    And, thank you, Misha, for bringing Laura to us.

  18. Hey Misha ~~ I thoroughly enjoyed this post ! It gives a fresh perspective on how to create real , believable characters . Thanks to Laura for sharing these gems with us !

  19. Heidi, Misha, & Laura--Thanks so much for processing what we learned at Pennwriters, and more. Mentoring is a great thing!

  20. Misha, tag, you're it!

  21. Misha, I know as per blogging advise I'm only supposed to leave a comment if there's something relevant I have to say. well I'm not an author so I can't relate much on this one even though I read and appreciated your post. All I really wanted to say was "hi"..

  22. This is fantastic. A great way to dig deeper into characterization. :)

  23. Thank you Misha for hosting Laura.

    Laura, this is an interesting exercise and one that brings the 'what if' game to a new level. Thanks for sharing.
    N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium

  24. Always looking for new techniques to dig deeper and find more drama. Excellent suggestion.

  25. We can definitely learn a lot to help us as writers from music, dance, acting, films (screenwriting).

    I haven't tried acting our my characters' lines, but now I think I will.

    An excellent post. Thank you!
    Ann Best, Memoir Author

  26. I'm really glad everyone stopped by to check out my guest blog post. I tried to stay on top of responding to everyone's wonderful comments, but the holiday weekend got the better of me.

    The closest I've come to acting out my scenes was taking on the role of a character to better understand her personality (a stark difference to me).

    While in the class, several people got up and acted a scene out. It was great to see characters working against each other on "stage." But later Kathleen and Kathryn gave the rest of us, the rather shy-type, an opportunity to experiment with the technique on paper. This helped me really envision all my characters and all their backstory and goals separately.

    Once again, thank you all for your kind and supportive comments.Thank you, Misha for the opportunity to reach a larger audience. I can't wait to read from other guest bloggers!


Thanks for commenting! I love to read what you think.

Feel free to ignore the check-box saying "Prove you're not a robot." My word verification is off, but I moderate comments to posts older than two weeks.