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Act It Out

Janet Anderton Art

So this year I interviewed a couple fandom and book writers about acting. Or rather, acting out. Fic and fiction writers Verity Burns, Narrelle M Harris, and Jamie Ashbird talked briefly with me about how acting and reading their stories out makes their stories better.

ATLIN MERRICK: So you three have written a lot of fic, as well as fiction for Improbable Press in our A Murmuring of Bees, and when I asked you after that about how you went about writing, all three of you surprised me in having a similar opinion on how pretending has helped you be better writers. How?

JAMIE ASHBIRD: Ah, pretending, I do it a lot. I act out a scene in my head, voice out dialogue, pretend to be the character to get a feel for movement and facial expression.

VERITY BURNS: I read aloud. When I podficced Heart in the Whole I found reading aloud highlighted awkward or repetative phrasing in a way that silent reading hadn't. After doing podfics I resolved to read everything aloud. Which…um, I don't do but I did resolve!

ATLIN: Verity, it was you who asked me to join you in reading aloud all fifty stories of my book The Day They Met before it was published. I swear to god I thought, "Well if it'll make her happy," because I really didn't see the point. Well colour me schooled because boy did we find a raft of grammar, spelling, and other errors that way

JAMIE: Yes! Reading dialogue aloud is so good for hearing the flow—or lack of—in what you’ve just written.

NARRELLE M HARRIS: Reading aloud is invaluable—for finding errors, for flow, to check that different characters have a different 'voice' and don't all just talk exactly the same way. I used to read aloud to my cat Petra. She was so judgmental. Now I just read to the air.

ATLIN: Going back to what Jamie said about feeling the characters movements and facial expressions, it reminds me of when I'm trying to teach myself katanas without props and I think woohoo look at me. Then I take up my fake sword, do the move, and realise I’ve been throttling my phantom enemy with the dull side of my weapon the whole time and woohoo turns in to booooo.

JAMIE: Ah! Speaking of swords, a thing I’ve learned is that the hand holding the sword starts to hurt from the vibration of every hit. So a character in a mighty sword battle is going to have mighty sore hands.

ATLIN: Right! So when you can do the thing the character's do them. At least you might get the idea that after weilding the trusty wrapping paper roll around the office, that your wrist kinda aches. Or after walking around the block you'll know your character copes by walking around the block.

VERITY: I used to walk a lot when I was stuck on a story. I didn't go home until I'd worked out what I was going to do. The poor dog was knackered!

JAMIE: Acting scenes out while taking a walk is one of my favourite things, and realising my face has been going through a myriad of expressions and most likely convincing anyone passing by to give the strange lady a wide berth. So yes, do what the character does, say what the character says in the way you want the character to say it.

NARRELLE: Just walking the neighbourhoods your characters walk can help you write about their experiences. Sights, sounds, smells: writing with the five senses. And I, too, act out scenes and pull faces while walking and thinking up dialogue. I also like to act out key scenes, with face pulling, at my desk. Like an actor rehearsing a scene it helps find the best voice for the moment. Angry doesn't always mean shouting. Sad doesn't always mean crying. Sometimes in playing around with voice and tone I find a better and less expected way to do a scene. Also, it's fun. Though it is embarrassing when you get sprung.

JAMIE: I got sprung last week. Apparently I was walking along laughing to myself and making faces and a friend saw.

ATLIN: This brings me to porn, as all things must: I wish more people would do what their characters are doing. If you're writing about a man fingering his bum finger your own. You have one. If you're going to write about anal sex, please put things on up there to get an idea what that feels like. I promise you you'll learn stuff. Do the do when you can! (Don't get sprung though. Unless you want to be.)

JAMIE: It all helps with selling what’s happening, I reckon. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a blue floogleworm fucking a winged sheezlescrumpet, you can make them real.

Jamie Ashbird, Narrelle M Harris, Verity Burns, and Atlin Merrick all do strange things in the name of writing. They hope you do, too. If you do…tell us about it! © Janet Anderton Art

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