Thursday, December 17, 2009

Writing and Improvisation

Aren't all writers improvisers, really? I mean, we sit at our writing desk or our computer or whatever, and we don't have the whole thing mapped out already finished in our heads. There may be an overall plan, but the detail has to be foggy.

Then we write. And the words spill out on the page.

Yesterday I was standing in a large, disused commercial kitchen, pretending to be a boom operator. Rhys Davies, the real life director, was playing the part of the camera man. In front of us were three actors - two playing the parts of actors who had turned up for an audition at this unlikely location and the third playing the part of a director with no budget who was interviewing them.

(Sorry about the confusion - actors playing actors etc. Unfortunately there is going to be much of this as the story of the new movie project is revealed. More of that later.)

The experience was fascinating. Some of the material the actors came out with, I could have written down there and then as polished dialogue. Other parts needed editing, so to speak. To be honest, some moments were so funny that I had to bite down on my lip to stop myself laughing out loud and spoiling the moment. And yes, funny was waht we were aiming for.

Today I am sitting at the laptop, experimenting with scenes for the same movie project. I'm typing dialogue that those same actors might potentially end up saying. The process seems very similar to what we went through yesterday. The lines come to my head and I type them without thinking. OK - I can go back and edit later, but the process feels as if it has that same spontaneity. I'm being the characters, just as the actors were.

The process of writing has a tension between these two tendencies - spontaneity and self-awareness. The creative genius and the critical editor. Both have to co-exist in the mind of the writer. Getting the balance right - that is the trick. As for the actor - is there room for the critic in her/his mind? At least I have the luxury of separating the process of creation from the process of editing.

I suspect that if I understood more of the actor's craft, I would find more parallels.

1 comment:

siobsi said...

I would say yes - there's always an element of self-monitoring even whilst inhabiting a role. That's why you can break off and go straight into a discussion baout hwo to change the performance. I've always thought that writing fiction was exactly like acting - bit of a mix of the 'method' of Stanislavski with the self-consciousness of Brecht.