by David Ellis
The other day, some friends and I were talking about movies—probably owing to the recent Oscars—and then to great performances. Heath Ledger came up and someone told me he fell into the school of “immersion” acting. The idea, as I understand it, is “becoming” your character all the time, staying in role 24/7, wearing the Joker make-up even when off the set.
(Note: Wearing Joker makeup 24/7 only counts as immersion acting if, in fact, you are playing the Joker in a movie; otherwise it’s considered creepy.)
Then someone asked me if I immerse myself in my characters. In the traditional sense, the answer is no. I don’t become my protagonist all the time. I don’t see how any writer could do that. It’s the difference, I suppose, between an actor playing a character and a writer scribbling out that character plus everything else around that character. The writer is covering more ground than just that one person. (See witty banter between Tina Fey and Robert Downey Jr. at the Oscars.)
But it raises an interesting and related question. Obviously, we all try to get inside the heads of our characters every time we plot an action they would take, a thought they would have, dialogue they would speak. But do we practice a mini-version of immersion?
I do so but only sparingly. I once wrote about a serial killer and found that I was writing more powerful prose if I was listening to violent rap music. Sometimes when I have to write a “mood” scene I think about what I want the mood to be and then put on music that gets me in that frame of mind. And sometimes it works the other way—I happen to have on some music that ends up altering my mood and the prose seems to adjust accordingly.
It’s not only music; at times I have used television or movies, but less as a deliberative choice. I don’t necessarily decide to watch something on a particular topic to get me in the mood to write a certain scene or point of view, but if something I watch gets me in that mood, I will try to take advantage of it. Especially because these days, when I’m writing, it’s sometime past midnight and my general mood is tired and cranky.
I would be interested in what others do. Time to write being at a minimum for me, I’ll take any crutch or inspiration I can get. And I am continually surprised at how much I learn from other writers and readers on this blog. Do any of you try to get (and stay) in role, playing your protagonist in real life, even for a short time?
That’s it for me, for now. It’s time to get some sleep and this damn clown make-up takes a long time to scrub off.