Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Wassily Kandinsky - Circles in a Circle, 1923
Every action we perform in real life has an objective. The same should apply to fiction.

When working on a character, it is of extreme importance to ask yourself, "Why am I saying this? Why am I behaving this way?". Your answer should include the causes for a certain action or line; even more importantly, though, it should include its scope, or purpose. It's the latter that allows your character to keep going, projected towards a final goal.

After establishing who the character you're playing is and doing all the necessary work to build the character, there comes building the scene. It is essential for each scene to ask yourself, "What is my objective?", "What am I trying to get here?".
This, together with understanding what you are doing with the other characters in a specific scene, will not only set the tone, but give you a clear idea of what you want to achieve and how you should carry it out.
It is a good rule for your objective to never be a physical one, for example: "My objective for this scene is to slap this person"; if you want to slap somebody, all you need to do is slap them, it's as simple as that. Your objective should be an emotional, abstract one, like, "I want to humiliate this person"; a physical action - like a slap - is simply a way to pull off that objective but never an objective per se.

Also, I don't think an actor should be concerned with consistency.
Of course, if a character is shot in the knee at the beginning of a play, then he's supposed to limp to different degrees for the entire duration of the story. But this is nothing about consistency; this is continuity, another important but different concept.
Emotional consistency is just nonexistent in real life; why should we be limited by it when working on a character? Michael Shurtleff, one of the most famous Broadway casting directors in America, termed consistency as "the death of good acting".

You will soon realize that the script or the play are, for each single character, brought forth by superobjectives. At the same time, scripts and plays are divided into smaller units of objectives according to the number of scenes in them. At a deeper analysis, a scene can also have more than one objective.
Naturally, this is only one of the many aspects an actor should focus on. 

If I were a writer, I would use a similar method for my novel writing.
Would that be a mistake?


  1. Fun post, Jay! You've got some great points in here. I know that for me, I try to let the emotion drive the story forward... but the tricky part is layering and building the emotion with each proceeding scene until it all blows up, LOL. It's such a careful, intricate balance--gaaaaah. So hard. But definitely a fun challenge :D

  2. I'm only a blogger who blogs from her heart. I blog like I speak, which is all over the place. I've never claimed to be a writer of any sort.

  3. Very, very good points, Jay. It's fascinating to see two disciplines converge

  4. Excellent points. Everything in life plays out on multiple levels. Every action has reactions and exists along with multiple layers of thought. In writing we need to capture the aspects that are most relevant to whatever it is we are trying to convey.

    A Faraway View

  5. I didn't realize how similar acting characters is to writing them until I came to your blog.

  6. No, not a mistake at all. Character goals and motivation apply to fiction writing, too. If possible an object should do more than be there ... add to the character. Characters need what you've laid out to pop off the pages.

  7. Morgan,
    Thanks, I totally agree. I usually let myself be driven by the emotions - when acting, that is - but I'm aware that, when the emotions have done half the job, technique has to come in and momentarily take over.

    I can tell you blog from the heart, and that's great. Lot's of people, though, claim to be writers...

    I'm as fascinated as you!

    You're right about the multiple layers; I totally agree.
    Capturing the relevant aspects, I realized, is not as easy as it seems, though.

    I'm sure there are a thousand different ways to approach both acting and writing. I personally think that the two are absolutely interconnected and function according to the same rules.
    Thanks for stopping by!

    I guess you're talking about 3D writing...
    But I do agree, goals and motivations add to the character and their personality.

  8. Very good advice for fiction writing as well (in fact I thought that was what you were talking about at first). Unfortunately the objective of many of my characters is enjoyment, plain and simple! Sometimes theirs, sometimes mine. Thus it's a good thing that I've turned to poetry recently—where I don't have to worry about plots!

    Thanks for another excellent post, Jay.

  9. This is fantastic advice for writing fiction. While I am not very knowledgeable on acting, I do know that it may be of the utmost importance to understand what the motives of the characters are in my writing. I also agree that it isn't just the action-- actions are often symbolic of the interior motives of the one making them. I believe this is true in the arts and in life.

  10. True if your character is responding then he has an objective, but if he reacts, he is unpredictable. I would think portraying an character that should be unpredictable would have to be pretty personal.

  11. No, of course not! I think forming an objective within the framework of inconsistency is a great way to give one's characters depth! Totally agree! Take care

  12. Christie,
    Enjoyment can be an objective alright!
    Are you sure poetry is devoid of plots?

    An objective is, at the end of the day, necessary regardless of the activity or project we're committed to. Right?
    I agree, actions are just means, but they shouldn't represent a true objective.

    Being unpredictable adds depth to the character too. A way to make characters unpredictable is through contradiction.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.
    Inconsistency is also very much present in real life too. And if life is often unable to consistently answer certain questions, I don't see why fiction should.

  13. Well said, Jay. And no, it wouldn't be a mistake. When writing a novel, you divide the book into chapters, and the chapters into scenes which is analogous to a play. I think setting smaller objectives will help you get to the bigger picture (and be successful while doing it).

  14. Claudia,
    Good to know what I wrote makes sense!
    Thanks for stopping by and commenting!