Let’s talk about the strange image I’m using for these posts, the mirror with no reflection.
When I was 15 years old, I landed a role in a play that was only my second play I’d ever done and first lead I’d ever played. The show was performed at Ozark Actors Theatre in Rolla, Missouri, and the image is taken at that theatre. This mirror is in their green room, which is to the left of the actual stage.
The theatre itself is an old church dating way back to the 1800s, and has lots of history. If I had to pick between performing in old theatres and state of the art, I’d choose old. Way more character, way more engrossing as an actor.
But what’s up with the mirror?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood in front of this mirror and made a last minute adjustment to a costume piece, hat, hair, whatever. I performed at the theatre so many times, that it became natural to not feel comfortable and ready as the character until I had verified the character in the old and enormous mirror in the green room.
It became a part of checking that the character was ready for public consumption.
What are your checks and balances for your characters?
As writers, we are responsible to all the characters in the story, whereas an actor is typically only responsible to one. But there is still that responsibility to check the mirror. Make sure what the audience (your readers) are about to see of the character is actually the character. The character you intended them to see. Who is the man or woman in the mirror? Does the reflection make you respond, “That’s it!” Or do you groan and mumble, “That’s not right.”
As an actor I always wait and hope for that a-ha! moment with my character. When I’m in costume, makeup, hair, and look in the mirror and say, “Now, that’s him!” As a writer, I want those moments, too. I want to know that I’ve hit the mark and that the character is now ready for public consumption.
If you send a character out on stage (or paper) before they are properly prepared, your audience (or readers) will know. They’ll say, “I didn’t believe it. I wasn’t convinced the character would have done that.”
Ask, “Would she really do this?”
As a writer, you’re not going to be able to look into a mirror as all of your characters, but once you’ve had that a-ha! moment with your character use that as your reflection. And if changes befall the character, add that to their reflection. And pit future reactions of the character against that reflection. Basically, based on what you know about her, ask, “Would she really do this?”
On characterization, from William Powell
Let me give you a few quotes from the great actor William Powell. He had a couple of quotes on characterization that I happen to agree with. They seem to fit in this post. But let me add, that I view characterization very highly, so there will be more posts in the series on characterization.
I do not hold that because the author did a bad job of writing the player need trump it with the same kind of acting. When I go into a picture I have only one character to look after. If the author didn’t do him justice, I try to add whatever the creator of the part overlooked.”
“I have never gone into a picture without first studying my characterization from all angles. I make a study of the fellow’s life and try to learn everything about him, including the conditions under which he came into this world, his parentage, his environment, his social status, and the things in which he is interested. Then I attempt to get his mental attitude as much as possible.”