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Stanislavskis method within Writing

March 3, 2010

Having been student of the Stanislavskis system – an approach to acting developed by a Russian actor and director, Konstantin Stanislavski in my “theatre days”, I have revisited it to draw on his wisdom for my writing. His focus sees the artist (in his case, actors; but to broaden the theme, we will encompass writers) “being in the moment” but keeping one side step detached in order to observe and edit ones actions so that they can be more authentic.

The Russian actor and director Constantin Stan...
Stanislavski

The most important factor within his methodology/ structure is to understand the characters objective – their motivation. His system is a complex method for producing realistic characters and forms the basis for (better) known actors on both film and stage. Stanislvskis main push was for emotional authenticity where artists were required to recall experienced personal emotions to draw upon to feel whilst they explored their characters. Whilst most of us live relatively un-problematic lives (thankfully) untouched by terror and grief; it does not mean that a suburban mother or a young student cannot explore areas which they’ve never experienced – such as death, terror, bliss, loneliness. The secret is to access feelings which are similar – or experiences which evoke similar feelings to that which you are describing.

Visit any writers forum and it becomes clear a great majority of writers suffer writers block when they attempt to describe and share feelings and emotions on paper which they themselves have never felt or observed. This perceived inadequacy then either produces sappy or predictable dialogue or an avoidance all together. Perhaps if part of Stanislavskis methodology were adopted within writing, then these negative thoughts could be eliminated.

A portion of Stanislavskis belief was that anyone, given the support, and encouragement to fully explore their previous experiences , can draw upon their emotions for authenticity in the moment. An example of this may see a writer needing to explore the emotions their character feels after a friend has died; but the writer themselves has never had personal experience of anyone close dying. Stanislavski would ask pointed questions to uncover emotions attached to what that character holds as their beliefs about death – and of the beliefs the artist has. Perhaps the major emotion is guilt, or loss, or loneliness. After the main emotion is named, further exploration into other times the artist has felt these specific emotions in a strong manner. Its important to pinpoint a strong emotional connection in order to then link it back to the original one the artist is attempting to convey.

Though experiences which have strong emotional associations are often easiest to draw upon, its not to say you need to live an intense life in order to be able to write emotively or connect with ones readers feelings. If you are embarking on a writers rampage of horror, find a time in your life where something has terrified you and draw upon that to craft your characters world. Similarly when describing love, or bliss, pinpoint a pure moment in your life, feeling and remembering the physiology you experienced before committing anything to paper.

Stanislavski maintained that the art of performance cannot be learned from literature, only from constancy – that of action, performance, and observation. Moulding this loosely to fit our writing theme, one could assert that the art of writing cannot be learnt by reading or literature alone – but in what this site is all about – “write more, talk less” and that real learning comes from action, writing, observation and above all editing.

Stanislavski urged his students to learn from their experiences, catalogue them mentally and draw upon them when required. This is certainly sound advice for a writer,particularly if faced with an insurmountable task or negative situation within their personal lives. If there is any silver lining in a time of sorrow, fear, financial struggle or uncertainty, then press on telling yourself that you are building a bank, rich with emotions to draw upon for your characters.

Image via Wikipedia

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Annie Evett is feeling a bit tired and emotional this week.  Its all just catching up on me. Must remember that I can ‘use it’ in my writing…Follow Annie here on Twitter and start your escape into her world  here

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2 Comments
  1. hedgemonkey permalink
    March 4, 2010 3:54 pm

    An excellent post which I read with a pang of nostalgia for my Theatre Studies days. If anything I would say Stanislavski’s method would hold more relevance to writers than to actors who come to the character second hand after the writer. You’ve given me much to think about here … so I am off to melt a chocolate cake and smear it on my face so better to write a Moor character I am tinkering with.

  2. March 7, 2010 7:14 am

    🙂 yum yumm choc cake

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