Friday, February 17, 2017

Spotlight on Theater, a guest post by Brooklynn Gross

Happy Friday, friends! Shannon here. I've got something fun for you today.

Please welcome Brooklynn Gross to the blog! As a theater lover myself, Brooklyn's article resonates with me. More than that, she communicates clearly how the craft of theater relates to the craft of writing. Even if you've never set foot on the stage, you'll appreciate her advice.  

Brooklynn Gross lives in South Dakota with her parents and younger sister. She enjoys reading, playing piano, and writing poetry for her state’s literary magazine. Someday, she hopes to become a high-school English teacher.

I adore the moments leading up to a performance. 

There’s a buzz of excitement in the air--or maybe it’s just the chatter from the expectant audience. I adjust my costume, whispering my lines one last time before stepping up on stage.

The thrill of performing isn’t the only thing I like about the theater. Whether it’s a skit in drama class or a musical at the local retirement community, my acting experiences--both on and offstage have impacted my writing and the way I see the craft.

This past summer, I worked with a set of directors who stressed the importance of talking like our character, moving like our character, and improvising. Does this rule only apply onstage? I decided to find out.

Talk like your character.
In theater, you’re given a script with your character’s lines already written, but there is more to acting than just saying the right words at the right time. If your line is “Where is the princess?” you need to use your character’s feelings and traits as a guide. Are you the princess's mother, looking for your daughter in the woods? Or are you the evil witch, furious at your henchmen for letting Rapunzel escape?

In writing, it’s the same way. Although your character’s lines aren’t pre-written and highlighted, you still have to take into account how your character feels when she’s talking. Is she exploding at her best friend, using short, choppy sentences and constantly interrupting?

The best way to decide how your character would talk in a situation is to put yourself in her shoes. If she’s excited or scared, think about a time you felt that way. What does it sound like when she’s lying? Are her sentences filled with rambling explanations, or does she fall silent, only offering monosyllabic answers?

Move like your character.
During a one-act play festival at a local high school, I saw a play about three elderly women who all had crushes on the middle-aged detective living across the street. While I was watching, I kept forgetting that the elderly women characters were all played by teenagers. Sure, the fake wrinkles and frumpy dresses were probably a factor in that, but I believe that movement--the way the girls leaned on their canes and walked at half-speed--transformed the high-schoolers into ninety-year-olds. Even the most subtle movements, like the way their hands shook when they picked up their tea cups, showed that the girls were completely in character.

Words that show movement (walk, run, glide, etc.) do a lot more than get your characters from point A to point B. They can show how your character is feeling. Instead of saying, “She was winded from the race” you could let description do it for you, like this:

Lilly stumbled over the finish line and collapsed into the grass. Her lungs inflated like balloons as she gulped down air. Sweat trickled down her forehead in little rivers, drenching her shirt.

During drama class, I learned about a type of acting that doesn’t involve scripts or memorized choreography. It’s called improvisational theater, or improv for short. In improv, a group of actors perform a skit (usually a comedy), making up the plot, characters, and dialogue on the spot, without any rehearsals or practice beforehand. Oftentimes, the actors incorporate the audience’s suggestions to get the skit started.

One time, I watched an improv troupe who let the audience choose quirks for the characters in the skit. They were all silly things; for example, the first character thought he was a dog. The second one had short-term memory loss.

Real-life people have quirks, too. (Maybe they’re not as extreme as the person who thinks he’s a dog, but they’re still unique.) Like your sister, who says nonsensical words whenever she’s angry, or your friend who dips her french fries in peanut butter.

If people in the real world have quirks, shouldn’t characters in your storyworld? It makes them more realistic and helps with characterization. Your characters’ idiosyncrasies and habits can give readers a glimpse of their personalities. If one of your characters constantly calls her friends by the wrong name, maybe it shows that she’s scatterbrained. Maybe it shows that she thinks her friends are too similar, dressing and acting the same way just to fit in.

On stage and on paper, quirky, unique characters are more realistic and interesting.

Being involved in theater has helped me strengthen my characters and their stories. I believe that all writers should consider being involved in theater. But if the notion of auditioning for the school musical makes you feel queasy, fear not. Just pop your head into the school auditorium during rehearsal or cheer on your community theater during their next performance. Maybe you’ll see a writing concept in action.

Or maybe you’ll sit in the darkness, listening to the whispers floating from backstage, wrapped up in the magical moment before the first actor steps onstage.

Because that would be pretty special, too.

Have you ever seen a play or participated in a theatrical production? Did you experience anything that might impact your writing? 
I’d love to hear about it!

Note from Shannon: Yes! We'd love to hear how your theater experiences translate to writing. After you leave a comment, Jill Williamson has another fantastic treat for you that includes Kindle giveaways and oodles of books up for grabs. Hop over to her blog and bring a life preserver! We're all LOST AT SEA!


  1. French fries dipped in peanut butter? Ewwww! Who does that? This was super interesting, Brooklynn. Thank you for sharing about your acting and your writing!

    1. I know! French fries and peanut butter would taste awful together.

    2. I had the same response and noted it in her edits! Funny, huh?

    3. Indeed! It would be a memorable detail, though. ;)

  2. This was amazing! I think it just joined the ranks of my favorite posts from Go Teen Writers. I think the reason it resonated with me so much is that I'm also a thespian. When I was younger, one reason that I wanted to join theater was because I saw acting as an exercise in understanding character. However, that wasn't the reason that I finally joined theater last fall, and even though I've been with it for a while now, I think I've forgotten about the connection between writing and acting. This post reminded me about that connection and taught me some new ones, which I know I will be applying soon! Thank you so much for sharing this post with all of us.

    1. I'm glad you enjoy theater!

    2. What a lovely compliment, Vera! If you like theater posts, here's another:

  3. Wow, what great insights, Brooklynn! Thanks so much for sharing them on Go Teen Writers!

    1. Thanks for letting me write a guest post!

  4. This was an amazing post, Brooklynn! It was so interesting to read - thank you for sharing your insight! :)

    ~ Savannah

    1. Thank you, Savannah!

  5. Fabulous post, Brooklynn! I really enjoyed it. Thanks so much for sharing with us. Gave me something to think about. :-)

  6. Acting is an amazing experience. I had participated in church plays for years, but last year I got to be part of a play at my community theater, and it was an amazing experience. I can't wait to do it again!

    For me, I think the emotional experience is probably what helps me most with my writing. Trying to experience the emotions of the character I'm playing makes it real for me, and then I have a real-life emotional experience to draw from when I'm writing. It's a self-supporting cycle that I hope to experience more of in the future. Great post!

    1. That's a good point! Acting definitely requires you to understand your character's emotions.