Sunday, 24 January 2016

Writing - Is Method Writing the way forward?

We've all heard of method acting where an actor immerses himself in the aspects of a role that will help them best understand the nature of the person they are playing. It has now been suggested that is the way forward for writers.

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I have heard of one writer, Thomas W. Hodgkinson, who spent hours lying in a cupboard as part of understanding the mindset of a character in his novel Memoirs of a Stalker. There was so little room he had to write on his mobile phone. Hodgkinson is launching his Method Writers project, calling on other authors to try similar techniques to see whether or not it benefits their writing.
Whilst such a move rather conveniently draws attention to Hodgkinson's debut novel, could his idea be worthy of further discussion?
Sarah Churchwell, professor of American Literature at the University of East Anglia, doesn't totally dismiss method writing as an idea, but says most would not think it necessary.

Professor Churchwell did say that it was just one method of writing and in writing one of her books had to immerse herself in 1922 to achieve the atmosphere she was hoping to create. 
"I did nothing but read about 1922 for five years - I felt I was imaginatively living in that world. You do become naturally obsessed," she explained.
I can understand that, particularly in producing historical fiction. The recently shelved The Magic Show, which takes place in the 1880's was shelved partly because of my difficulty in obtaining the correct atmosphere.

Image result for Obsessive writers

As I have often said it does depend on your own writing process which is intensely personal. I have described my relationship with the creative process many times. In short when my mind is not busy with daily routine, I am inside the head of Patrick Steele, which is an essential part of the process for me.

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Marathon Man

It is not every actors' favourite method of capturing a role. In the film Marathon Man, Dustin Hoffman has to appear exhausted and he explained in the presence of Laurence Olivier, that he hadn't slept the previous night in an attempt to capture the physical feelings associated with exhaustion. Sir Laurence commented,

'Have you tried acting dear boy?'

That may seem a particularly scathing retort but writing and acting are about pretending and, in the case of writing, that pretence can be bent and shaped into new situations. The ideas are inside a writer's head and in some circumstances the 'real' situation doesn't exist.
Sir Laurence's comment was about applying your imagination without recreating the situation. The skill of the actor is in making the audience believe that what they are seeing is realistic, not 'real'. Similarly, writers are creating a situation where the readers imagination is engaged. In the Marathon Man, Hoffman's exhaustion may appear different on the screen to the audience members' experience of exhaustion. There is not one single response that would cover the whole audience.

Kyoto 2007

When I have included a place outside the UK in my books, I have usually tried to use a place that I've visited as it refreshes my mind as to the atmosphere of the place. I suppose this would be partial method writing in the strictest sense. Having said that I wouldn't pretend that I had to have been to a place to write about it. Google Earth is very useful!
The final point about 'method' working is that it gives a single, personal reaction to a situation. Hodgkinson writing in a cupboard to simulate stalking from a cramped space only gives him a personal experience. If he was claustrophobic his reaction may be totally different and his readership's response may not be the same as the author's.

Imagination is the key. That is what Olivier was saying to Dustin Hoffman and it is that which writers apply every time they create something new.

God Bless