The Means to An End: An Idiom in Action

This is my first post on my new blog.  All previous entries have been moved from my obsolete LiveJournal blog, so this is a big day for me in my new cyber-home.  

The QT Chain blog topic this round is How Real are Your Characters?  

The previous blogger in the chain, the ever-impressive H.L. Dyer, wrote that she would bet big money that other bloggers after her will insist their characters are quite real to them.  I want in on that bet!  If you write fiction, three-dimensional characters are essential.  

A Means to an End

In addition to writing, I teach acting.  Character development in acting is as critical as any technical aspect of the art.  There are several schools of thought on character development in acting.  I was trained in and teach the Stanislavski System of acting, which is sometimes called Method Acting.  Simplistically described, Stanislavski Method employs the recall of sensory memories from an actor’s own experiences to deepen the development of a character.  In preparing for a role, an actor will use sense memory recall to pull up emotions so that the performance is realistic and genuine.  If the part calls for the portrayal of a person grieving the death of another character, the actor would call up memories of his/her experience that is closest to the scenario being portrayed.  This is why Method Acting is not usually taught until late high school or college.  The actor must be able to choose memories that he can handle and use effectively.  If the recall of the memory is too intense, the performance could break down (and so could the actor).

I teach my students that recalling the memories and reliving them is only a means to an end, not the final result.  The technical aspects of acting must be layered on top.  This is a hard part for many of them. Going back to the grieving scenario I previously mentioned:  The student must take the memory of how it felt, sounded, smelled, tasted to be in the parallel situation from his own past and apply it on stage in a controlled manner.  The body will react believably if the emotions are genuine.  Still, that is only the means. The end result must be a clean, believable performance that is consistent for the benefit of the other actors.  Every action must be justified by a realistic motivation.  “Why am I doing this?  Why did I just cross to stage left?”  It can’t be because the director told him to do so.  He must find a reason for the character to do it in order to believably accommodate the director’s staging.


I really am going to write about characters in fiction.  Really!  

All this theatre babble was to give insight into how I approach character development.  I apply the same principles instituted in Stanislavski Method Acting to give my characters depth and provide motivation.  I think most writers do this subconsciously.  We put ourselves into the place of the character, whether it be human or non-human and try to relate to them.  Readers do the same.  

Heather mentioned motivation in her blog.  It all goes to intent.  Everything a character does must be justifiable and believable.

Now the means have been met.  What about the end?  

The end product incorporates all the touchy-feely intense things we feel for our characters with a believable, intriguing story line and good technical writing.  Just as with acting, the writer can get lost in the character at the expense of the final product.  

So to answer the question…  

How real are my characters?  To me, pretty darn real– but not so real I can’t step back from them to accept outside editorial suggestions in order to achieve the desired end:  a publishable product.  

How much is the bet, Heather?  Kate Quinn is next. The odds are high that she’s into her characters too.


Explore posts in the same categories: QueryTracker Chain, The Writing Process

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10 Comments on “The Means to An End: An Idiom in Action”

  1. H. L. Dyer Says:

    Great post, Mary!

    I didn’t know you taught method acting. That must give you amazing insights into character and behavior. Lucky you!

    Sadly, I don’t think anyone will accept that bet. It’s too much of a long shot. *snort*

    I like your pictures along the way, too. And they’re not raised like mine (I think it’s my blog theme that does that. 😉 )


  2. Sandy Says:

    I’m jealous of all you writer people that have drama/theater experience. I bet it really does help to get into your characters heads.

    There’s been a lot of great posts on this topic so far, lots of deep thought. I’m feeling pretty shallow.

  3. Michelle Says:

    Wow, excellent post Mary, and so so true! And yeah, I’m thinking that bet might not be a good idea – odds are, most writers are going to say they know their characters pretty well. And the ones who don’t, well, it’s kind of easy to tell 🙂 That’s not to say you have to know every aspect about them. Just like in real life, you never know everything about anyone. But it is kind of hard to realistically describe someone you don’t know at all 🙂

  4. Sandra Says:

    I like that you discussed acting methods and character, Mary. Paul, the protagonist of my science fiction novel, is an actor. It’s useful to see how he might approach developing an onstage character.

  5. I love how you write about acting methods! I have a BFA in theatre and for me I have found that I can draw upon the lessons from either one of these mediums to have greater insights into the other.

  6. Oh! I forgot to add that your new blog is absolutely gorgeous!

  7. bloggingexperiments Says:


    Great blog. I love the header pic…awesome!

  8. Carolyn Says:

    Hey, I really enjoyed your entry. I like whenever someone explains some writerly thing from a new perspective, because it helps me see things in a fresh way. 🙂

  9. Sarah Jensen Says:

    I love this Nary, um, Mary. I was a theatre major in college also, and I use it as well. Great post so far, I hope I can live up to these.

  10. kristalshaff Says:

    I believe that acting and writing go hand in hand. Writing is just a form of acting with the written word.

    Great thoughts and pictures…

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