Friday, January 11, 2013

On Anne Hathaway and Head Hopping (This Is Absolutely, Defintely Not About Being Crazy)

Yesterday, if you had been in my neighborhood, and if you happened to be driving down the road at the same time as me, and if you happened to be able to read lips, your attention might have been riveted by a soliloquy going on in my car. It went something like this:

You tried to kill me, James. You tried to murder me. What could you possibly say that would make that alright? You held me under the water until I passed out. In what universe is it alright for a guy to do that to his girlfriend? You tried to kill me.

This interesting bit of dialogue, while disconcerting all by itself, becomes even more disturbing because, as far as you can tell, I'm alone in the car. No blue tooth, no cell phone--just me. It makes a person James in the car with me? Perhaps duct taped and lying on the floor in the back?

And then I say:

It's not what it looks like, Ana. I can explain.

At that point, if you are wise, you probably drove as quick as you could in the other direction, because I am obviously insane, right?

Wrong. (Of course that's what they all say...)

I do this a lot. I try to do it mostly when I'm pretty sure I won't be caught. For a long time, I thought I was trying to come up with dialogue, but if that's the case, I'm coming up with some pretty lousy dialogue. Every now and then I come up with something that I want to save, but for the most part, as far as actual writing stinks. Instead, I'm trying to feel.

I want to know. If Ana is confronting James for the first time about what he did, how does she feel? There are lots of possibilities...Sad? Terrified? Under the right circumstances, she might even be amused. But as I was driving down the road yesterday, I realized that Ana is furious. She isn't furious because that's what I decided she was going to be. She's furious because she IS.

Once I know what Ana is feeling, I head hop on over to James. Again, theoretically the possibilities are endless. Is he derisive? Annoyed that he got caught? Defensive? It turns out that James is in shock. He can't believe she found out about this now, when he thought it was all over.

And then I start over:

You tried to kill me, James...

Like some broken record. Drives me crazy (but not that kind of crazy). Or it did. Now that I know what I'm really doing, it's actually kind of cool.

In any high-voltage scene, there is a chain of emotions that build on each other. When I'm going through these scenes in my head, not only am I figuring out how to keep my characters true to their personalities, I'm also creating an emotional pathway, so that when I actually sit down to write the scene, my emotions go where I want them to, and they go there quickly. It's immensely helpful.

Then, to make myself even more weird, while I'm writing, if my character bats her eyelashes, I bat mine. If he sighs, leans back and puts his hands on his forehead, I do that. If my character smells something bad, I crinkle my nose. I find this really helps me to know if what I'm having my characters do is believable. For example, despite what paranormal romance authors would have you believe, very few people can actually lift one eyebrow.

Not every paranormal romance hero can be Jensen Ackles, ladies...
So, far from being embarassed by my apparent multiple-personality-disorder, I'm kind of proud of it. It reminds me a little of method acting.

I think I'll call what I do Method Writing.

Which brings me to Anne Hathaway and Fantine, in Les Miserables. Have you heard the stories about what this woman did to herself to make her part believable? 

As far back as her Ella Enchanted days, I have loved Anne Hathaway. I admit to being torn about what she did to prepare for Fantine though. On the one hand, her performance is unimaginably heartbreaking. On the other hand, personally, I value health above creative perfection.

Lately, Les Miserables  is the only music that plays at our house (well, except One Direction, but that's just a given). My daughter and my son both walk around the house singing, "Look down, look down, You'll always be a slave/Look down, look down/You're standing in your grave." And my daughter hijacks me at inopportune moments. "Just watch this one part,'s just five minutes." Let me tell you, what Anne Hathaway did for Fantine is some of the most memorable acting I've ever seen.

I've written at least two starving characters, and I never skipped one meal in their behalf. So how far do YOU go to understand your characters?


  1. I love the concept of method writing. I do that too to some extent.

    Anne Hathaway is lucky the movie didn't have Fantine sell her teeth like she did in the book. :) Getting your hair cut on screen is one thing, getting your teeth pulled is something else.

    1. She did sell her teeth in this movie. It was really gruesome.

  2. Thank you! I am NOT the only one that does this! I feel so much LESS crazy now. :)

    Great post!

  3. Yeah. I do that all the time. *sigh*

  4. Great post!
    I can actually raise one eyebrow, and it all goes back to your family... When you were all obsessed with Days of Our Lives, and Roman Brady used to do it, I decided to figure it out. I sat and practiced in a mirror for hours :)

    1. Oh my gosh, Laura, that is hilarious! Although my past obsession with Days of Our Lives is supposed to be a secret we take with us to the grave, remember??? That is a skill that comes in handy frequently, I'll bet.

  5. I am so glad I'm not the only one who uses Method Writing. We should all post videos of ourselves. What do you think??

    So...I just got back from seeing Les Mis. I felt guilty writing a post about a movie I hadn't seen. What a powerful movie. If you haven't seen it, be courageous! Go do it. It's absolutely worth it.

  6. Poor, poor James!

    One of my favorite things I do while stuck in a spot is to head hop; it's amazing how many things you find out about your secondary characters when you give them a chance to speak.

    I can't say I've ever done that particular sort of method writing, but I'll jump to writing certain scenes depending on my mood.


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