Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Call to Action

actioning--an interpretive concept for actors, also useful for providing writers with structural insights; a technique for establishing authentic spontaneity in a character's response to a stimulus, whether from another character, a dramatic condition, or an inanimate object.

Actioning implies finding an action for a particular event in a story. This means translating agenda or goal or perhaps fear or revulsion at every opportunity, resorting to mood as a secondary tool. Once this concept is understood by the writer to the point where it becomes muscle memory, the characters will emerge from a story with greater clarity and purpose. The concept involves knowing in addition to who the character is, what that character wants, what that character is willing to do or not do to attain the goal, and how the character feels about all the other characters in the story.

Hint: For writers, dialogue is also part of actioning.

This last attitude--how characters feel about each other-- is of particular importance when the character speaks to another. Does that character admire, distrust, resent, possibly even hate the other character? And what are the social boundaries surrounding their relationship. Suppose Mary can't stand her mother-in-law? How would she, in a family gathering, inquire if her mother-in-law wanted tea? And suppose the mother-in-law thinks her son could/should have done better in his choice of a wife. How would she respond? "What ever led you to think I drank tea?" Nice, maybe. What about, "This time, remember the lemon." Or, "I'll get it, myself."

Dialogue is not conversation, it is an exchange of dramatic action. A simple line of dialog such as "I'm not hungry" may be read in a number of contexts. Your character should not say "I'm not hungry" (a perfectly plausible thing to say under many circumstances) unless, being said, it hovers between the speaker and the hearer...and the reader with a meaning that extends well beyond,"I don't require food." For instance, suppose the speaker of that "I'm not hungry" line is met with the response, "But I went to great effort to make this for you." Ah, now the light is beginning to dawn.

Added hint: Think verbs at your characters. He wants. She lusts. He envies. She detests.

The writer has the advantage over the actor of being able to use mood in narrative, but to action-ize narrative, imagine the character thinking thoughts at as well as to a particular character or group. I should tell them all, she thought, to take their offer of a vice-presidency and shove it. Thinking that, what does she do next? That's actioning. That's also story.

In much of today's modern theatrical productions, the director and cast meet early in rehearsal to action the script, creating the bonding chemistry among the cast that will inform their interpretations of the lines before them, and making it easier for the director to block out each scene, defining where each character should be. Even for writers who like to proceed with no game plan, detailing the feelings for each character to all the others is a floatation jacked for a sea of chaos.

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