Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Writing - Lesson 6 of 6: Rhythm

Of necessity I have some more very long quotes for you all but I think it is necessary to properly explain Rhythm, read through them carefully and consider what B. says seriously because I think it's something that you either already have an understanding of, or you don't.  It doesn't mean you won't ever if you don't yet, but it's something you'll have to read and see if you come to the same conclusion I do.

"...It [Rhythm] is one of the hardest subjects to explain because it is so simple and universal.  A child is born with the manifestation of Rhythm present.  It breathes.  A fair start which nature provides for all.  After that, development follows.  First in walking, second in speech, third in emotions.  One step, one word, one emotion changes into another and then another, each with the same allegiance, a final aim in view.  This is the first level of Rhythm- consciousness.  the second level arrives when outside forces impose their Rhythm on you.  When you walk or move or gesture with or for others.  When you walk in line; run to meet a friend; shake hands with an enemy.  when your words answer other words; sweeping you with them or holding you still.  When your emotions are the direct answer and result of somebody else's feelings.

"...[The third level is] When you command and create your own Rhythm and that of others.  It is perfection.  It is a result.  Do not hurry to achieve it.  The student must start with the second level.  He must not do much at the start.  All that is required of him is to notice these manifestations in real life and store them away in his brain.  Special attention should be given to the results of different Rhythms.  The best thing to start with is music, where Rhythm is most pronounced.  Go to a concert; a street organ, if you prefer, will do just as well.  But listen to it with all your being, entirely relaxed and ready to be swept by the definite measures of the music.  Give yourself up to the emotions it brings to you.  Let them change with the changes in the music.  Above all, be attentive and flexible.  Follow music with the other arts, these with every-day occurrences. 

"...look into space and listen with your inner ear.  Music, and the other arts which follow naturally, will be only an open road to the whole of the universe.  Don't' miss anything in it.  Listen to the waves of the sea.  Absorb their sweeping change of time, with your body, brain and soul.  Talk to them as Demosthenes did, and don' weaken after the first attempt.  Let the meaning and Rhythm of your words be a continuation of their eternal sound.  Inhale their spirit and feel at one with them, even for an instant.  It will make you, in the future, able to portray the eternal parts of universal literature.  Go through the same experience with woods, fields, rivers, sky above- then turn to the city and swing your spirit to its sound as you did to its creative rattle.  Don't forget the quiet, dreamy, small towns- and above all, don't' forget your fellow men.  Be sensitive to every change in the manifestation of their existence.  Answer that change always with a new and higher level of your own Rhythm. This is the secret of existence, perseverance and activity.  This is what the world really is- from the stone up to the human soul.  The theater and the actor enter this picture only as a part.  But the actor cannot portray the whole if he does not become a part."  (119 - 122)

Every story has a Rhythm much like what is described here.  We mimic life and we mimic it in a way that actors learn to pull in from the rest of the world.  So too should writers be pulling in this Rhythm of life that B. talks about in this chapter.  You've learned to Concentrate, both on your experiences, and your writing with lesson one.  Lesson two helped you to remember the emotions of life and help them bleed truthfully into your characters.  Lesson three expands on what Dramatic action is and how it doesn't have to be in an explosion to be just as vital  Lesson four was Characterization and understanding how the character is different than you and how to make the characters different from you.  Lesson five was the use of observation, true and in detail of the world around you.  Lesson six is finally the culmination of everything you've learned to do to feel the Rhythm of the world around you, the tug and flow of the words in a conversation or the actions in a scene or even the flow of the scenes around you and your characters.  If you're aware of it in real life how can you fail to write it into whatever world you're building, whatever scene is laid out before you or whatever conversation your characters have.  Learning to be aware of these things, of this Rhythm and working to extend it can only help your writing in my estimation.

Finally I have a last quote for you that really struck a chord with me and I hope it does with you as well.

"The Creature:  I don't think I did anything unconsciously.  I am a very matter-of-fact person.
I:  I know you are.  The actor must be- How otherwise could he dream?  The only person who can dream is the person who can stand with both feet firmly on the earth." (34)

So let us strive to understand the world around us that we might be firmly placed and so that our minds can fully fly free while our feet stay firmly on the ground.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Writing - Lesson 5 of 6: Observation

The following is in regards to a game played by German children that B. knew of who would be required by their teacher to "repeat snatches of their activities, things they have done today yesterday and a few days ago. It serves to purpose of developing the pupil's memory, analyzing his actions and sharpening his sense of observation." (92)

"It [the game] helps a student of the theater to notice everything unusual and out of the ordinary in every-day life.  It builds his memory, his storage memory, with all visible manifestations of the human spirit.  It makes him sensitive to sincerity and to make-believe.  It develops his sensory and muscular memory, and facilitates his adjustment to any business he may be required to do in a part.  It opens his eyes to the full extent in appreciation of different personalities and values in people and works of art.  And lastly, Madame, it enriches his inner life by full and extensive consumption of everything in outward life." (97-98)

Finally, "The Creature" as he calls the actress who comes to him tells of the exercise that she created based much on what the German children did with their teacher.  "I decided that for three months, from twelve to one every day, where ever I happened to be and whatever I might be doing, I would observe everything and everybody around me.  And from one to two, during my lunch time, I would recall the observations of the previous day.  If I happened to be alone I would re-enact, like the German children, my own past actions... I became as rich in experiences as Croesus n gold.  At first I tried to jot them down, now I don't' even need to do that.  Everything registers automatically somewhere in my brain, and through the practice of recalling and re-enacting I'm ten times as alert as I was.  And life is so much more wonderful.  You don't know how rich and wonderful it is." (101)

Here's the curious thing about observation.  We all think we do it.  To an extent we all do I think, but to do the kind of observation with a purpose and a concentration like that which is discussed in the above passages and in this chapter of the book is to go above and beyond merely taking in what's around us.  It goes to the level of taking everything in, even the things we would normally filter out of our conscious mind.  Think about it.  When you're driving seems a good example to me.  You look around, certainly, you watch where you're going you look for pedestrians you try and watch for all the lights, you make split second decisions... it's probably one of the few points where we're actively observing as much as we can.  It's when we lost concentration, allow our minds to filter out too much information that accidents happen.  That's when we almost hit the pedestrian or when we run the red light or rear end someone whose break lights we shoudl have seen.

This kind of observation can only be helpful for writers as much as for actors.  We write the human experience, but how can we write it when we're closed off to half of it?  When we can't even be bothered to truly pay attention and observe the people around us.  If we've by this point mastered the art of Concentration then shouldn't we also have mastered the art of observation?  Unfortunately the two do tend to be learned rather exclusively.  Instead of learning to concentrate and observe we learn to do one or the other.  Proper observation though deserves a great deal of concentration.  Now don't try this in the car please, you've got enough to pay attention to without adding everything else, but try this exercise, see how much you can remember and start to train yourself to think of every possible experience around you and in your own life as possible fodder for your novels.  Your worlds can become richer, your characters more unique if you have a greater vat of information to draw on.  Why wouldn't you want that?

Wednesday will be the final installment of the chapters.  Lesson 6:  Rhythm.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Writing - Lesson 4 of 6: Characterization

Today's lesson's quote is a little long, but I do consider it worth the reading.  Please read it and consider it before continuing on.

"It is like this, my child.  The actor creates the whole length of a human soul's life on the stage every time he creates a part.  This human soul must be visible in all its aspects, physical, mental and emotional.  Besides, it must be unique.  It must be the soul.  The same soul the author thought of, the one the director explained to you, the one you brought to the surface from the depths of your being.  No other but that one.  And the character who owns this created soul on the stage is unique and different from all the rest.  It is Hamlet and nobody else.  It is Ophelia and nobody else.  They are human, that is true, but here the similarity ends.  We are all human, we have the same number of arms and legs and our noses are placed respectively in the same positions.  Yet, as there are no two oak leaves alike, there are no two human beings alike.  And when an actor creates a human soul in the form of a character, he must follow the same wise rule of Nature and make that soul unique and individual. ...Analyze now in detail the posture of your head, go to the galleries or look into books.  Look at Van Dyck, look at Reynolds.  Your arms and hands were natural and sincere, but I could have told you right away that those hands play tennis, drive a car, and when necessary, can broil a marvelous steak.  Study the hands of  Botticelli, of Leonardo, of Raphael...  ...By studying and making it your own.  By entering into its spirit.  Study the different hands.  Understand their weakness, their flower-life tenderness, their narrowness, their flexibility.  You can control your muscles.  Just curl your palm longwise.  Do you see hwo much narrower it is?  Two days practice and you won't even think about it, but whenever you want it, it will stay like that as long as you wish.  And when, with that kind of hand, you grasp your heart, it will be a different gesture than the one you made.  It will be Ophelia's hand clutching Ophelia's heart, not Miss So-and-So's hand grasping Miss So-and-So's Heart." (77-79)

So.  Long quote right?  I felt for understanding this chapter the longer quote was necessary.  He talks about "Characterization".  The woman he speaks to doesn't understand what he means.  She says the lines of the character and she wears make-up and costumes and that makes her the character she is supposed to be, isn't that right?  Here in this passage which is the heart of the chapter to me, he explains what he means by Characterization.  It is more than simply yourself that you are portraying in this, it becomes a character that can be played by any human who understands Opheilia and who can become her with the nuances of a gesture, a posture, a glance, etc.

Now I can feel you asking, how does this compare to writing a character?  I can feel the same questions come up as the actress had for B.  Surely if you write a character that character is already characterized.  So here is my question back for you, do your characters live and breathe on their own?  Do they inspire a different feeling in you, in your posture, even in the motion and ability of your hands?  If you've ever done any improve or Role Playing to figure out your characters you might notice something interesting that my husband and I have noticed.  With particular characters, once you're in their head, if you let yourself walk around as them or do an action as them you might find a peculiar thing happen.  I'm right handed, my husband is left, but we have characters who will instinctively grab things with their dominant hand if we're far enough into the characters with enough Concentration (see lesson 1!).  It's always a peculiar feeling to grab a pen with my left when I know I'm right handed but I find out the character is not.  Here then is the characterization that would be acted on the stage.  There is a deeper understanding not only of who the character is in regards to yourself, but who they are in regards to themselves.

It's something to keep in mind when you're creating a character.  The stronger you want the character to be the more individual it needs to be.  Would that character be able to speak in a crowded scene with no names mentioned and stand out as distinct?  Why, what makes it that way?  Is it the way he speaks or the way she stands?  Is it the way he carries on without end or the way she stands silently with minimal speech?  Why not write every character with the intention of making them so unique every time someone might go to act them they cannot help but notice these characteristics that define this person.  Help your reader to understand how individual they are by making them live beside and beyond yourself.  Study people outside of yourself in order to understand what other things your characters hold the potential to be.  You're only one small part of what they can become if you only let them!

Monday will be Lesson 5:  Observation.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Writing - Lesson 3 of 6: Dramatic Action

Lesson Three - Dramatic Action

"Dramatic action which the writer expresses in words, having that action as the purpose and goal of his words, and which the actor performs, or acts, as the word actor itself implies." (55) Acting, The First Six Lessons, Richard Boleslavsky

"I: Yes. But my action was prompted by you.  The Creature:  By me?  I:  Yes.  By your character rather.  To convince you in anything one must approach you through emotion.  Cold reasoning is inaccessible to your type of mind- the mind of an artist who deals mostly with his or other people's imaginations.  If, instead of you, I had a bearded Professor of History as a companion, I wouldn't have acted sorrowful at all.  I would have tempted him enthusiastically with a picture of the past - a weak spot of all historians - and he would have yielded to my statement.  The Creature:  I see.  So one must choose his actions in accordance with the character of the part that opposes him.  I:  Always.  Not only the character of the part, but also the individuality of the actor who plays the part."  (63) Acting, The First Six Lessons, Richard Boleslavsky

Firstly, these are direct quote from the book, he refers to the young actress as "the creature" which is not unusual for the time this was written.  It's an older book but the lessons in it are no less useful for all that.

Now Dramatic Action in theater, whether on a stage performed or in the script written is not so different from what other types of Authors must achieve.  Each was written at some point, each had to have action considered at some point.  The biggest difference is that the Actor performs what the script-writer wrote visually for the audience to see.  They may never see the script that inspires the performance but they will likely not feel less for that lack.

Writers of novels however have a bigger job.  They must describe not only the words of each character that will inspire action as the script-writer must, but they must then also describe the actions that the characters perform and the reactions that those actions inspire in others.  Dramatic action is often thought of as conflicts but I think we should take this cue to look at dramatic action a little closer.  Yes, a conflict is often filled with Dramatic actions.  People argue, they throw things perhaps, or there's a great deal of tension in it. But conflict and dramatic actions do not have to be massive, huge things that are so overt the reader feels like they're being hit over the head.

What if two people were arguing in silence?  How would you describe that?  The conflict would be there, but the focus would be as much on what they were doing, what their expressions were, the tension of their bodies as it would be anything else.  So where do we go with this?  Look at a scene you wrote that you're not happy with it.  Is it missing dramatic action?  Is it missing actions on the character's parts?  Or are they all talking heads standing still in the room?  Who would lose by adding in a little detail about the actions and reactions of the characters setting the scene?

Lesson Four on Friday:  Characterization

Monday, December 19, 2011

Writing - Lesson 2 of 6: Memory of Emotion

Lesson Two:  Memory of Emotion.

As I said on Friday, today is the continuation of the First Six Lessons of acting translated into use for writing.  Today's lesson is on the "Memory of Emotion".  If you're interested in the book I'm using as my basis it is Acting, The First Six Lessons by Richard Boleslavsky.

"We have a special memory for feelings, which works unconsciously by itself and for itself.  It's right there. It is in every artist. It is that which makes experience an essential part of our life and craft.  All we have to do is know how to use it."  (pg 36)

This chapter discusses how B. believes that every person has the ability, unconsciously, to attach emotions to objects.  When this is done those emotions become so attached to the object that we cannot help but experience the emotion whenever we see the object.  I believe this to be true, particularly if you consider aversion therapy and positive reinforcement in regards to both animals and humans.  He suggests to the actress who has come to him in this chapter that as she has been concentrating on everything in her life as well as in her art that hidden within her is likely the emotion she needs to access, and she has only to remember the occasion or the object of that emotion in order to bring it up.  He spends the chapter explaining to her how at first she may need to re-tell the story in great detail to bring up the emotions she experienced at that time.  But that through practice she would be able to condense that feeling and bring it into action whenever she liked.

Writers are people who go through a myriad of emotions for just as many reasons.  We have to know what a character's feeling and to be believable we have to know WHY they're feeling it.  We have to know the character so well that we can bring up an emotion... well what if that's not the only case?  What if we as writers need to know ourselves and our own emotions well enough to bring forth an authentic emotion in a differing situation?  Here's where I suggest that the turnover is.  Just as B. told the actress to go over the emotions until she could bring them up at a single thought, perhaps we as writers should be doing the same.  When we understand the nuances of each emotion that we are capable of, that we have experienced and when we can call them up then we can understand our character's emotions with a depth and truth that we may have been lacking before.

I'm often told in acting to "keep yourself out of it".  You don't want to "impose" yourself on the character.  This is a danger for the author as well, but where I am not supposed to do that in acting, no one tells you not to do it with writing.  Seriously consider your characters, know them inside and out and know the feelings of emotions and what can bring them out.  When you know yourself you can know what is you, what is your character and how to breathe life into your character that is not entirely your own.

Lesson Three will be Wednesday:  Dramatic Action

Friday, December 16, 2011

Writing - Lesson 1 of 6: Concentration

Hi Everyone,

First let me apologize for my drop in posts the last week, was having a tough time (as Friday's post no doubt evidenced) but I think I'm through the worst of it now and I have some interesting thoughts for you!

My next 6 posts, this one included, so the next 5 posts, will be based off of a book I just finished reading entitled Acting, The First Six Lessons by Richard Boleslavsky.  It's a book for actors that suggest the different things an actor must do to become great.  I plan on giving a brief overview of the idea and then I will explain how I think writers can benefit from looking at their work and their life in similar ways.  I don't think it extends only to actors.

So.  The First Lesson:  Concentration

"Acting is the life of the human soul receiving its birth through art.  In a creative theatre the object for an actor's concetration is the human soul.  In the first period of his work- the searching - the object for concentration is his own soul and those of the men and women who surround him.  In the second period - the constructive one - only his own soul.  Which means that, to act, you must know how to concentrate on something materially imperceptible,- on something which you can perceive only by penetrating deeply into your own entity, recognizing what would be evidenced in life only in a moment of the greatest emotion and most violent struggle.  In other words you need a spiritual concentration on emotions which do not exist, but are invented or imagined." (pg 22)

The above is a direct quote from the book.  Boleslavsky is speaking to a young woman who wants to be an actress and has come to him asking for him to teach her to be what she so desperately wants to be.  His first "lesson" is that she must be able to concentrate.  Seems redundant for me to say it right?  Maybe, but it's something that I feel very few of us really know how to do in this day and age.  We have so many things to do, so many things taking our attention that we become unable to concentrate on what we SHOULD be doing.  In this case, our writing.

Writing to me is much the same as B. describes acting to be.  There are two periods, the searching and the constructive.  When we build the story, plan out its details, research the information or setting, build the world or characters, it's at this point that we're external.  We look outside of ourselves for inspiration, we look to other people, to other information, we seek for a whole idea and we slowly build it.

When we sit down to write, that is when we move from the searching to the construction.  Like B. suggests for the actor at that moment the writer must swallow everything they have learned, everything they have searched for and they must look to the story that waits in their own soul and no where else.  Now as writers we don't seek to say someone else's words like an actor does, but our own words in a way that only we can do.  Keeping this in mind when we are searching and when we sit down to write we owe it to ourselves to create a space where we can fully concentrate on our work, our words and yes, our own soul as that is where the story lives.

In some ways a writer's job is harder than the actor's, as an actor you generally portray one character for one story.  Most first person stories could perhaps be seen as akin to acting out the story for the reader's benefit.  But those of us who write in first person, who have to go through not one character but all of them.  Those who write the plays the actor will act, should keep in mind that what people want to connect with is the soul of the story.  And they want it to be something they as a human can also connect to.

So take away those things that will break your concentration.  Work out exercises for yourself to keep that concentration no matter what.  It's when you can write without breaking for any reason, where you can submerse yourself fully into the sights and smells and emotions of your settings or your characters or your scenes that you will naturally fill in what needs to be seen, heard or felt.  I think it's in that intensity of concentration where you will get your best imaginings, your best rememberings and your best writings.

Monday will be Lesson Two:  Memory of Emotion.

Friday, December 9, 2011


When the world seems at it's darkest, all you can do is feel lost.

I don't know what to post today.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Poetical Waxings - "Things to do"

Be yourself.

Know yourself.

Find yourself.

Lose yourself.

Love yourself.

Laugh for no reason.

Smile for no reason.

Love for no reason.

Forgive with every iota of your being.


Love your enemies.
Love your neighbor.

Love your friends.

Love your family.
Love God.

Pray for your enemies.

Pray for your neighbors.

Pray for your friends.

Pray for your family.

Pray for your Life.

Pray with abandon.

Pray with Joy.

Praise Him for all the Blessings given, whatever size.
Live every day the way God designed for it to be lived.

Live knowing you are Forgiven.
Live knowing you are cared for.

Live knowing you are Loved.

Live knowing you will never be alone.

Live with Joy.

Live with Sorrow.

Know there are times for both.

Live every moment with everything you've got, hold nothing back.

Don't just exist.