Writing Discussion

“Acting For Writers 101: Making Your Scenes More Believable” by Guest Blogger Ollin Morales

Today I’m excited to welcome writer, actor, super blogger, Ollin Morales to Ink Stained. I wanted to know how acting influenced his writing, and this is what he had to share. Don’t forget to visit Ollin at his blog Courage 2 Create.


Acting For Writers 101: Making Your Scenes More Believable

By Ollin Morales

I was an actor for 10 years before I finally decided to become a writer, and the experience has proven very useful to me.

Acting has taught me very fundamental principles about dialogue, monologue, character development, and even story development.

The most important concept that writers can learn from actors is the idea that characters need to be embodied. When we give a character a body–that is, make them human–we can see how a character would actually act if the fictional world they lived in was actually real. This embodiment not only makes our characters more realistic, it also makes the drama a lot more interesting.

How does an actor bring real, human embodiment to his character?

He does this by examining three aspects of the character he is playing before he even walks onto a theater stage. Those three aspects are the character’s objective, his obstacle, and his action:

  • OBJECTIVE: The character’s goal: what the character wants.
  • OBSTACLE: Something that is getting in the way of what the character’s wants.
  • ACTION: What the character DOES to try to overcome the OBSTACLE and achieve their OBJECTIVE.

Here’s an example of how these three principles are employed in a scene between two actors:

Scene: An old man who has been working as an assistant for an architect for several decades approaches the architect with a new blueprint for a home.

At the end of the scene, the playwright requires that the architect must fire the old man.

Actor A is playing the old man and Actor B is playing the architect.

Attempt 1:

Actor A {who is playing the old man} chooses his character’s objective. “My character wants to keep his job,” Actor A thinks. After he chooses his character’s objective, Actor A chooses his character’s action: his character will “plead” with the architect to keep his job, so that the architect will pity him. Finally, Actor A acknowledges his character’s obstacle: the architect’s determination to fire him.

Now Actor B chooses his objective: firing the old man. His action is to make the old man feel “guilty” for his own firing. Finally, Actor B acknowledges his character’s obstacle: the architect’s pity for the old man.

If Actor B can get past this obstacle, he’s golden. If he can’t, he loses.

Next: the actors play out the scene as their characters.

The old man enters, and when the architect begins to fire the old man, the old man pleads for his job. He pleads so well that it is impossible for the architect to fire the old man {not realistically at least}.

Actor A wins. He played a stronger action and that’s how he achieved his objective.

But the scene NEEDS to end with the old man being fired {that’s what the playwright wrote}. So the actors have to try the same scene again.

Attempt 2:

Actor A and Actor B choose the same objectives and obstacles as in Attempt 1, but this time, Actor B changes his action.

They add a prop: a blueprint. This is the blueprint of the house that the old man will now present to the architect, before he gets fired.

Next: the actors play the scene again, as the characters.

But this time, when the architect begins to fire the old man, the architect tears up the blueprint and throws the remaining pieces of the blueprint into the old man’s face—making the old man feel guilty for his own firing.

Ashamed, the old man leaves.

Actor B wins. His action was stronger this time around and that’s how he achieved the objective his character was after—firing the old man.

Through this process, the actor’s have accomplished their goal: to make the scene more realistic, and therefore, more interesting.

As you can see, this process can go on and on, and it often does. Not every discovery will be kept for the final scene, but the point is that the actors are stretching the limits of their characters. These actors are feeling their way through the scene, pushing all the buttons they can see, seeing how low, or how high, the scene can reach, just how a professional singer plays with how low, or how high, her voice can reach before it cracks.

This is another thing writers can learn from actors: the importance of playing with a particular scene. Because when you learn how to play with a scene the way actors do, you’ll not only have fun writing your novel, but also, your ability to tell a great story will improve—dramatically.

much love,

Ollin

Ollin Morales

Ollin Morales is a writer and a blogger. {Courage 2 Create} chronicles the author’s journey as he writes his very first novel. This blog offers writing tips as well as strategies to deal with life’s toughest challenges. After all, as Ollin’s story unfolds, it becomes more and more clear to him that in order to write a great novel, he must first learn how to live a great life. You can connect with him on Facebookand Twitter.

10 Comments

  1. I agree with the idea of playing around with a scene. I do that all the time in my head (mostly on the commute home, lol) and having done that “pre-work,” I find that the writing goes much smoother.

  2. I think trying out different “actions” is the most fun. You can have your characters do all sorts of things no one will ever read, but it is really telling. It helps you really understand your characters motivations in a lot deeper sense–and sees the boundaries between them and others.

  3. Interesting. I agree with the principles outlined of Objective, Obstacle, and Action – these are some of the basic building blocks of plot. But I have to say… this is very different from the way I learned how to act.

    That said, I never really did much in the line of improvisational theater. Rather, I’ve done the scripted kind (and even then, it’s been years) where the actors are working from a pre-established text. At least in my experience, there isn’t much room for the actors to change the outcome of a scene – the outcome is determined by the script. Rather, the actors have the ability to change an audience’s perception of the qualities of a character through their representation – the mannersims, expressions, cadence, tone, and inflection the actor gives the character.

    Which… these are things that writers can incorporate as well. Scripts tend to be looser on these more visual details, providing only basic stage direction. Stories and novels can be much more detailed in that regard – and depending on the type of story, including these details can do a lot to express a character.

    1. Actually, we don’t change the script. The script calls for the old man to be fired, and the actors accomplished this. There is room for the actor to do his work, some would say that that is their job. If you listened to the best actors they will tell you how they added to their roles without ruining the script, but by enhancing and enriching the script.

      Trust me, when you study playwriting and directing like I did, you realize how each person has been trained to be aware of what their limits are and what they can play with.

      Playwrights are aware of their need to be able to provide some leeway for the director and the actor to play around with the scene.

      This is paramount because often the same play is done over and over again every decade and so there needs to be SOME way to make the play fresh and new. And this is one of the ways in which this is done–by allowing the actors to play with the scene and find something new.

      It isn’t improvisation, it is practiced and rehearsed beforehand and the director will make the final decision of what is kept or cut.

      The throwing of the blue print in the face of the old man could be cut out for instance, but the actors understand that the same intensity needs to be employed, the one they used when there WAS a blueprint.

      Its very hard to explain, you really have to see it in person, but I tried my best T.S.

  4. I was for a while trying to capture the objective and actions of various characters in scenes (this was particularly when I was letting the antagonists be too much of pushovers). I liked this approach to strengthen their “backbone”.

  5. Yes, increase the obstacle if you want to increase the drama. Play with it. Stretch it out, see how hard you can make it for the character to get what he or she wants, see how far they will go to get it. It’s always fun, and it might teach you a lot about your character.

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