Why actors can make good writers


Acting and writing aren't as dissimilar as you might think.

I have just been reading a wonderful collection of short stories by Rachel Joyce, entitled 'The Snow Garden.' They are vivid, uplifting and beautifully drawn, as is her first novel 'The Secret Pilgrimage of Harold Fry' (I'm afraid I haven't read the others but I am sure they are equally good). I was reading the author bio on the inside back cover and was interested to discover that Rachel once acted with the R.S.C. Eimear McBride, author of the amazing 'A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing' was drama-trained (I had the privilege of hearing her read the opening to her novel at a recent BBC Book Club recording. It was mesmerising.) Jessie Burton, who wrote the highly successful novels 'The Miniaturist' and 'The Muse,' started her working life as an actor. The romance novelist (and, in my opinion, writer of the best blog for creative writers), Sarah Duncan, once played Rodney’s girlfriend Vicky in ‘Only Fools and Horses.’ Is it a coincidence that four contemporary novelists were once thespians? I don't think so.

Although you might imagine the stage or film set to be a very different environment to the solitary spaces occupied by writers, both are places were fiction is woven. And although writers are sometimes introverted, many actors confess to being shy deep down - which is why it is easier for them to inhabit different personae.

Writers are often advised to read their dialogue out loud to see if it sounds natural – ex actors probably have an edge there! Method actors, who learn to ‘inhabit’ their characters, are aware of their every quirky habit, their gestures, the inflections in their voice - and we can learn a lot from this if we want to characterise well. Good acting is often about creating tension, another key aspect of writing. We both need to convey a sense of place vividly, to maintain interest at all times, to make our audiences think, laugh, cry…

I’m not suggesting we should all start treading the boards – the prospect of being on stage terrifies me – but if we learn to think like actors I suspect we will create more powerful characters, more intense scenes, more authentic dialogue – and more successful novels as a result.

Break a leg!