Thursday, April 21, 2016


Some twenty years ago, I wrote my first book…no not a novel, but a how-to for my acting students. 
"Mister Farmer, why don't you write a book about what you're teaching us…it's actually logical and easy to understand," one of my students suggested.
Well, anything to make teaching the young minds of mush easier…I did. I titled it ACTING is STORYTELLING. It was the definitive treatise on what is termed in the acting world as Organic Acting. My kiddos called it their Acting Bible.

Here's an excerpt from Acting is Storytelling.


There's no set definition, but, most commonly, it's a reference to a style that is characterized by literally allowing the Character  to own your equipment, that's your mind, body and voice (story). In other words, allowing the Character to takeover.  Thus, you are acting simply as another person (that's as not like). This is called Organic  because you are allowing your character to dictate your personality, style, movements, speech, etc. You're letting it come from your character through the use of the "BACKSTORY".

After writing several novels, I noticed the similarity to acting was amazing. Maybe it's just my own style, but, when I write, I literally become each character. Of course, I do a backstory on all the main ones.
I use this interesting quote in Acting is Storytelling: You can shape a character to anything  your imagination can deliver. "A man isn't an actor until he commands a technique which enables him to get an impression across into the heart of an audience without reference or relation to his own individuality. The better the actor, the more completely is he able to eliminate the personal equation." John Barrymore -  On the flip side; the poorer the actor, the more he must rely on his own personality (personal equation) in his attempt to tell the story. I just don't see a lot of difference. 
I write Character Driven stories, so it's axiomatic that the characters take over.
In my mind, every step the writer takes toward intellectualizing the story or the character, takes him one step away from the story or the character.  You don't think about writing, you feel it.  If the heart is empty, then the head doesn't matter. I feel most writers analyze too much and create too little—it is better to eat your soup than to speculate on it.


It's generally understood today about the function of our brain; the left side is the analytical or logic (linear) side and the right side is the creative or abstract side.  The left is usually jealously dominant and will suppress the right whenever possible. The moment the writer starts to consciously think what's my objective, what's the objective of the scene, if, what's the subtext, what's the next line of dialogue, etc., he automatically and axiomatically smothers his creativity. 
Most people's brains have a great difficulty in transferring information from one side to the other. The thinking side is always ego based and is the side used when we try to interpret or analyze—the writer should learn to ignore the ego and allow the creativity to rise to the surface. The left side is used in preparation—the right side is used in creating.


The BACKSTORY initiates the creative process of the writer—all creativity starts with impulse. "Imagination and creativity are guests that do not like to visit lazy people." - Tchaikowski The writer creates a complete biography of the character from birth up to the time the story takes place as well as a psychological profile. It is not mandatory to apply terms as sanguine, choleric, melancholy, phlegmatic, Type A or Type B, etc., although sometimes it can be helpful. It may also be beneficial to look up the astrological profile and the tendencies from the birth date, which, of course, the writer usually has to create unless he/she's writing historical fiction. 
I use a book entitled The Little Giant Encyclopedia of the Zodiac - ISBN 0-8069-9529-7 for tendencies, positive and negative characteristics, ect.
Primarily the writer should be interested in what the character is like or what makes him tick. What are his goals, what are his desires, wants and needs in his life. What are his mores, habits, manners, lifestyle and values. What interesting things have happened to him in his life that makes him unique?  How does he respond and deal with conflict, crisis, fear and love and why.  Commonplace is not interesting. He must even create anticipation or dread of future events for the character—what is the character looking forward to, or dreading, what goals has he set for himself in his life, what does he anticipate is going to happen to him.   A little secret I bring from my acting book is—always give the character a secret that only he knows. Actually, that's a quote from Katharine Hepburn to which I have added: try to give your character a secret he knows about the other character(s) that the other character(s) doesn't know he knows.
Expression moves from within to without or to say it another way, as within, so without. To quote Dion Boucicault, "... the study of character should be from the inside; not from the outside! Great painters, I am told, used to draw a human figure in the nude form, and, when they were proposing to finish their pictures, to paint the costumes; then the costumes came right.  That is exactly how a writer should  study his art.  He should to paint his character in the nude form and put the costume on the last thing." 
You don't build a house from the outside, you must first design and construct the frame and the last thing you do is paint it. Always work from the inside out; if you work from the outside in, all you have is a dry husk.  A character is a blank canvas upon which the writer paints all of the emotions, details, fantasy memories and characteristics at his command. The writer is the brush: emotions are the colors;  the characters are the canvas. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. More on the Backstory next time.

"We can shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want." - Lao Tzu -


  1. As an actor who now writes, this makes perfect sense. Perhaps that's why, once the characters show up, the story pretty much tells itself. Doris/Angela Raines-author

  2. Yessum, pretty much. I just try to stay out of the way.