Thursday, January 29, 2009

Writer or Actor


I’ve never wanted to be an actor. Except… I’ve always secretly harbored a desire to appear in a western movie, preferably as a gunfighter. Thus, you see why at age 50 I’ve strapped on my shootin’ iron and had Lana take pictures of me as Arkansas Slim. I feel like a goof, but it’s good fun. (No comments about the “slim” part.)

I’ve realized, though, that being a writer is something like being an actor. Our characters are our roles. We inhabit them. We try to bring them to life. Our stories live and die, as do movies, on the ability of our characters to carry the tale. Maybe some readers won’t notice if we give short shrift to our characters as long as we fill our stories with action. But we’ll notice. If we’re in the skins of our characters in the way good actors put on their roles, we’ll know when we “make” the character do something instead of watching them respond in ways natural to them.

If they want to be gunfighters you have to let ‘em.

I also apologize for letting the Strange Worlds Contest drag on. Work has just been crazy. If you haven’t entered to win a free book yet, please do so here. I’m going to close the contest at midnight central standard time on Saturday, January 30. And since I’ve made everyone wait so long I’m going to pick two winners for free books.

Good luck!

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63 comments:

SQT said...

I did this with a friend of mine when I was a kid. We took pictures of ourselves dressed up as celebrities (Dolly Parton when you're a kid is just too fun) and other goofy outfits. My favorite was the one of my friend in a tuxedo jacket with basketball shorts and tennis shoes. Stuff like that is great fuel for the imagination.

I think we absolutely live through the characters, that's why the Mary Sue phenomenon is so common. I struggle with trying to walk the fine line between interesting and realistic.

Sidney said...

Yeah, it's all about wearing different hats. I think actors, writers, musicians and creatives have similar genes.

X. Dell said...

Actually, you look like a natural in that getup. I halfway expected you to sport a big silver badge on your chest.

Scott said...

Charles,

I agree about writers and actors, and with Sidney's reply abut singers as well...they all 'play' parts to some extent.

Your pics are badass! I may have to get out my armor and sword and play dress-up, too!

Cloudia said...

Charles: Another instructive and interesting post. My cousin, after reading my little auto-biographical novel, surprised me by telling me that I'm ALL the characters in the book. Hmmmm.
"Our characters are our roles. We inhabit them. We try to bring them to life. Our stories live and die, as do movies, on the ability of our characters to carry the tale."
And as to the contest? PICK ME!
Me Me! OOOOO, Teacher! over here!

Travis Erwin said...

Let me know if you need a sidekick. I can do a mean Tonto.

Charles Gramlich said...

SQT, I guess I'm going through my dress up phase now. lol.

Sidney, good point about musicians as well.

X-Dell, I've got to practice my squint and my line delivery.

Scott, hey I'm older than you and I played. You should too.

Cloudia, lol.

Travis Erwin, I haven't even thought of a sidekick for Arkansas Slim but now I'm thinking.

Barbara Martin said...

Charles, you have some of the best posts I've read, which is why I keep coming back. Photo is terrific.

Steve Malley said...

Mighty fine shooting irons you got there, pardner!

One of the best things I did as a writer, I did before I knew I wanted to write: acting and directing classes. Fan-bloody-tastic!

I might even see if I can get into some adult-eduction drama classes to freshen up....

SQT said...

I have to chime in and agree with Sidney and Steve-- there is a little bit of the performer in the writer just like the actor. I loved my drama classes in college and I think they add a lot to a writer's imagination.

And you know what, it's never too late to play dress up. My husband would be more than happy if I dressed up as Princess Leia in a bikini. ;)

ivan said...

Having been both a writer and an actor, this blog jogs some memories for me.
I think years ago, I failed the Minneapolis Multi-Phasial Personality inventory.
Friggin schizo.
Small wonder then, an actor or a writer.
Foo the wuck am I?
I guess all actors and writers ask this.

Multi-phasial.
Pick up the phone and say "it's for you" to the other guy in your head. :)

Miladysa said...

"Our characters are our roles. We inhabit them. We try to bring them to life."

How true!

I LOVE the photographs.

The surprising thing is I trawled the internet two months ago for an image of a coat like the one you are are wearing here and it was hard to find one. When you see the next RoYds illustration you might think that I used your photograph as inspiration! LOL

Georgie B said...

Charles, the first thing that popped into my mind was "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly".

:-]

Question that maybe you can either answer here or in a stand alone future post: Inhabiting a character is always essential for writing, but do find it easier to inhabit a male character vs. a female, or vice versa?

Vesper said...

being a writer is something like being an actor

I've never truly wanted to be an actress (I'm too shy) although I sometimes fantasized about it. But I sometimes envied the actors for their opportunity of living so many different lives.

A writer does the same. We live a different life with each story and it has to be, I think, at an even deeper level because we "live" the whole, not just a part...

Yes, your pics are very in character! :-) I have to figure out if Arkansas Slim is a good guy or a bad guy. :-)

BernardL said...

Good analogy, Charles, the 'Walter Mitty' aspect of writing is the greatest fun of all.

Charles Gramlich said...

Barbara, thank you. I love your great nature photos myself.

Steve Malley, I'm sure I could have benefited from them. Anything that helps you be able to inhabit a character should help.

SQT, come to think of it, there are some things I might suggest to Lana about dress up.

Ivan, personally, I get along really well with the other folks in my head. They undertand me, love me like a brother.

Miladysa, I like that coat. Lana bought it for me back a couple of years ago. She is so sweet to me.

Georgie B., I definitely find it easier to inhabit a male character. I'm always afraid my women will come off just like men. As for the Good the Bad and the ugly, I've been called Good before so I'll let you do it too. ;)

Vesper, we inhabit the whole world of the story in addition to the character, I think.

Bernardl, it is enjoyable to be another person for a while, with different concerns and joys.

Lauren said...

Those are some great pics. You totally look like you just walked out of a western.

Randy Johnson said...

You just look right in a duster.

benjibopper said...

funny tho how good writers tend to be bad actors. like, say, bob dylan.

L.A. Mitchell said...

How fun of you to show us your alter ego. You'd make a very convincing gunfighter :)

Mary Witzl said...

I'm wimpy, so part of me would like to be a big, evil-fighting action person myself. And yes: there is a little bit of actor in me, for sure.

My characters are generally all nerds or oddballs, so the challenge is to give them just enough nerve and spark to be dynamic and of interest (I hope) to readers.

Charles Gramlich said...

Lauren, you made my day. My secret longings are revealed.

Randy, I'm preening a bit. Lol.

Benjibopper, that's a good point. I wonder why that is? Worth considering.

L. A., yep, Arkansas Slim is a rootin' tootin' son of a gun.

Mary Witzl, personally, I'm fairly nerdy myself, so I always try to make my characters less so.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think to write you have to be able to inhabit alternate bodies. Mine are just usually dead ones.

Jo said...

I LOVE the new look...! I wondered at first if that was indeed you. It suits you!

And yes, writers get to be anyone they want to be, don't they? It's wonderful...!

Gabby said...

I like the last picture -- would be cool if you made the picture sepia, adding a little bit of age to the picture. Would add a lot! ^_^

Wil said...

Dude, the pics are great! I coulda sworn that was The Red Headed Stranger there!

Wil Harrison.com

laughingwolf said...

lol... looking good, hombre! ;)

that a .45 colt sa army, and mebe a winchester 30/30?

but yeah, a lot of acting and directing going on in stuff we write, not to mention all kinds of production, visual and sound effects!

i'd join you as a gunfighter in a duster... a 'heavy', in my case... lol

laughingwolf said...

oops!

uh... dunno what year ye be in, hombre, but MY calendar sez saturday 31 january, for '09 ;)

Angie said...

Definitely. [nod] It's like ad-libbing or roleplaying or whatever you want to call it. But I definitely get into my characters' heads, usually the POV character of whatever scene, and let "them" do what they'd do. And if I want a character to do something he wouldn't, it's like pulling teeth with tweezers trying to force it.

Angie

Virginia Lady said...

Great photos! I never wanted to be an actor. I was always too shy, but as a writer I can explore that aspect freely. Of course, it helps that I'm not as shy anymore. :-)

Aine said...

Personally, I think dressing up or playing pretend is healthy at any age! :)

(psst-- I've been dressing up as Harry Potter characters each Halloween for the past 4 years... it's been liberating to go trick or treating again!)

David Cranmer said...

"But we’ll notice." So true. Charles, your posts this past week have been exceptional and very helpful. Thanks.

Crushed said...

I'm actually looking forward to this draw...
I did enter didn't I? I'm sure I did!

I think characters do have to have understandable motivation. But yes, sometimes they do have to be slightly unexpected. To give them dimension.

ARCHAVIST said...

Cool Pics - is he and relation to Arkansas Smith?

Oh and as for the acting and writing - it's all left brain work.

Charles Gramlich said...

Pattinase, and alternate minds.

Jo, thankee. I’m trying to decide if I’m going to go to school this way? Lol.

Gabby, you know that’s a cool idea. I need to do that. Thanks for not saying there’s enough age already IN the picture.

Wil, ah, the discernment of a misspent youth.

Laughingwolf, the pistol is modeled on a Colt, which had various calibers, although 45 was one of the most common. It’s actually a .357 in caliber, which I got because I already had another .357 and could share ammo. The rifle looks pretty good. I love that lever action look, but this one is actually a .22 instead of a 30-30. I bought it for squirrel hunting.

Angie, I’ve forced characters to do certain things before, but I almost always have to go back and rip it out because it just doesn’t work.

Virginia lady, yeah, I’m not nearly as shy as I used to be. As a kid I was a real wallflower.
Aine, I think you’re right. When you stop playing you grow up, and who wants to do that.

David Cranmer, glad you appreciate them.

Crushed, I sure did make folks wait. Just got caught up in too much school stuff.

Archavist, I’m sure that’s where I got the name for Arkansas Slim.

Robin said...

I don't know whether to cast you in "No Country for Old Men" or "Chilsholm"...you are a contemporary John Wayne, hang up your scroll and qill and pick up a gatling gun! (don't you dare, that was a joke!)

I loved your series and it really got me to thinking. I'm writing what I love and what I want to, because that brings me joy and fun!

I hope to sell it, but if I don't, I don't.

But after this last post, I see you speaking to my "inner writer"...characterization.... that is key...and I realize if I categorize my favorite novels? Characters more memorable than plot.

I describe the character more than the plot...so I'm going with that.....plot drives the character and gives him/her opportunities...

Character driven novels are better than action driven ones....someone should set up a picket line at the movies.

Erik Donald France said...

Cool and good points, to boot.

You could walk right into Once Upon a Time in the West . . .

the walking man said...

Slim what's say we rob the stagecoach as it goes through Dead man's Gulch?

Leon said...

Maybe I should circulate pictures of that "gunslinger" to casting directors out here in L.A. You never know what might happen! :~D

Lana Gramlich said...

C'mon now, admit it! You'd don't feel like a goof...You're having fun & you know it, Slim. ;)

Charles Gramlich said...

Robin, I've found in my own reading that plot-driven novels need to be shorter than character driven ones because I lose interest faster.

Erik, that's my favorite movie of all time.

Mark, agreed. But no killin' for the fun of it like you did when we robbed that bank in Dodge City.

Leon, well, now that Sergio is gone I don't think there could be a director who could bring out the best of my talent. ;)

Lana, you got me, baby. You know me almost as well as I know myself.

Maalie said...

Well, I must say that you look very stylish in that outfit :-)

laughingwolf said...

good stuff, charles...

an original sa army colt from the days it first came out is prohibitively expensive, as you know

i used to have a .22 ruger single six bearcat, and a remington nylon 66, just cuz both used the long rifle bullet

also a .44 mag marlin lever action... wanted a wheel gun of the same caliber... maybe one day?

Gabby said...

*grins* Ya know, any other mention of "age" never even crossed my mind. *wink*

Travis said...

I agree that we have to let our characters be who they are. But quite often this prevents me from moving the story forward.

I find I'm arguing with the characters and trying to get them to do it my way because that's how I've plotted the dang story!

Leigh Russell said...

Yes, writing has a lot in common with acting, researching and trying to empathise with the characters, and having a sense of drama or tension.

As for the photo - I won't comment.

Greg Schwartz said...

great picture! sometimes it's hard to tell if i'm "making" a character do something, and i have to put the story down and come back to it later with a fresh perspective.

Charles Gramlich said...

Maalie, now you’re just being silly. ;)

Laughingwolf, yes, price was an big influence on my purchase. Plus I wanted to shoot it rather than just look at it. I used to have a .22 single six revolver. It was some knockoff brand. It was so incredibly loud it hurt my ears to shoot it. I had a nylon 66 too. I think everyone did in the country eh? They were cheap but shot pretty good. My lever action 22 is a Browning and I’ve had it since I was 18.

Gabby, sure, sure. I believe you.

Travis, well if you can persuade them to go along with your plan you’re probably OK.

Leigh Russell, probably wise of you.

Greg, the very fact that I’m struggling with moving a character through a story is a good sign to me that I’ve pushed them in the wrong direction.

JR's Thumbprints said...

Director, Charles, director. At least in edit mode. The actor comes into play during the writing process.

Middle Ditch said...

You look great as the outlaw slim ... ha-ha-ha ...

I have been thinking a lot lately about the writer's part and have come more and more to the conclusion that they are the cleaners and rubbish collectors of the mundane world. They work the hardest, get hardly ever recognized and very lowly paid.

Jack said...

It's true Charles. And as JR says up there, the writer is a director. A writer is like a whole acting troup or movie production company. Don't forget special effects.

I have a replica of a wild west style gun that I got from Knott's Berry Farm. I have yet to pose with it. Now, I've gotta do it. I think you look like a character out of a Louis L"Amor novel.

Charles Gramlich said...

JR, hum, I hadn't quite considered that. Possible because I'm not sure I really know what a director does other than say action and cut. You may be right, though.

Middle ditch, yes the pay is certainly not up there with the NFL or NBA. More's the pity.

Jack, you should buckle that bad boy on and have a picture break, my friend.

Ray said...

Now that's an interesting thought. I guess that's true - the creation of a character means that you have to adopt the persona - just never thought about it in that way.
Just another analogy - climb into the saddle, flick the bars and ride free into the sunset.

Barrie said...

I think I'd be a horrible actor. Too self-conscious. But I wouldn't mind a crowd scene. Just to say I've done it.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ray, sometimes I really get involved with characters and at other times less so. I wish I knew why the difference.

Barrie, I'm sure I'd be a horrible actor too, though with a hat covering my face I could probably do better.

Danette Haworth said...

Charles,
I act out parts of my stories as I write them. I do this unconsciously and loudly. My husband once knocked on the door to see who I was talking with.

By acting them out, I become more aware of the minute gestures or feelings that come about with the events of the stories.

spyscribbler said...

Charles, I feel like this when I write, too!

There are days when I come home from writing practically feeling traumatized. And I have to sit down with myself, and remind myself that this did not happen to ME. It happened to a PRETEND CHARACTER.

LOL!

Ray said...

Charles - Maybe it comes down to the belief in a character. If I can't get to grips with a character it makes writing about them difficult. My way of thinking is that if I can't believe in the character then how is the reader going to.

Sarah Hina said...

I just love these pictures.

Misanthropic Anthropoid said...

i too would love to be in a western. nice post and pictures to boot.

Charles Gramlich said...

Danette Haworth, I do that on occassion, though not all the time. I almost always try to do a basic run through of the action scenes, though, to see if swords will reach, or a roundhouse kick would work.

Spyscribbler, I've felt pretty significant upset at times when things have happened to my characters that I really like and identify with. It's weird but definitely interesting.

Ray, thanks for visiting. that's a good point. I really enjoy trying to get into the skin of an alien character or one who is very very different from me. I don't always succeed but it usually shows up on the page when I can't do it.

Sarah, thankee.

Misanthropic Anthropoid, Yeah, I don't know why it's just a western. Maybe I think I have the look for it. Thanks for visiting.

Poutalicious said...

Now I see you're Arikansas Slim. I thought maybe you were Wyatt Earp. I read your interview with David, saw the picture and had to come and see. Great blog! You're obviously very talented in many areas.

Charles Gramlich said...

Poutalicious, thanks for stopping by. I'd like to say tha Wyatt was an ancestor of mine but I'm afraid that would be lying. lying more than I usually do that is.