I read it. With fascination. The Charcot Library, with its famous painting(s), is alive and functioning at Salpetriere Hospital in Paris. Perhaps even, Veronique is still a devoted worker in the library.
Monthly Archives: August 2014
@ 2014 Mary Anderson Parks
(I first published this article in Women Writing the West Quarterly Newsletter – Winter 1999)
Russian actor, director and producer Konstantin Stanislavski devised a philosophy or method of acting, the aim of which is for actors to become the character and live the part they play. We, as writers, can borrow from his method to make our characters live more vividly At the heart of Stanislavski’s teachings is a belief in the value of the subconscious and its importance in the creative process. To go deeply inside the character of another, he believes, we must tap into our own subconscious. A quote from his book, “An Actor Prepares,” suggests the mysterious and complex nature of the process:
“Very often we cannot come through definite data to know the inner life of the person we are studying, and can only reach toward it by means of intuitive feeling. Here we are dealing with the most delicate type of concentration of attention, and with powers of observation that are subconscious in their origin.”
If this sounds dauntingly abstract, it may be reassuring to know that in the same book Stanislavski cites as a cardinal principle: “Through conscious means we reach the subconscious.”
I have taken the liberty of borrowing from Stanislavski’s ideas, as expressed in “An Actor Prepares,” to come up with my own “conscious means” for reaching the subconscious, or at least for getting started on the journey. I pass them on here to other writers.
1. Walk. Alone. Walk to get where you’re going or walk just to be walking. Take new paths. See where your feet take you. See where your mind takes you. Let it go where it will.
2. Sometimes, when walking, try being one of your characters. Think like your character, move like your character, react as your character would. How does her body feel when she moves? Does she choose to walk in the sun or in the shade? Does she greet people or does she avoid eye contact? Is her step light or heavy? What are her thoughts? You can also do this while in a crowd or group, and if you choose your moments, even in interaction with one other person, for it can be a subtle process, taking place mostly on the inside.
3. Sit in a mall cafe and watch people as they converse. Turn off your ears or sit far enough away that you can’t hear them, and read their emotions in body language and facial expressions. Do this alone.
4. Convert a draft you’ve written in past tense to present tense. See if present tense brings you closer to your characters. Acting always takes place in the present. The present has the power of immediacy. Read aloud what you’ve written. Imagine that you are reading to an audience of one or more persons whose opinion you respect. Listen, as you read, for what rings true and what doesn’t. Spot places where something needs to be added. It is a clue that more is needed if you find yourself mentally supplying facts or thoughts that are not evident in the words you have written. Eliminate words, phrases or sentences that sound false or superfluous. Then change the draft back to past tense. You may have shed some of the distance between you and your characters in the process.
5.In reading dialogue aloud, try to feel what your characters are feeling. Live the lines. You may want to intersperse dialogue with some of the thoughts and feelings the characters are having, the things they don’t tell each other. In seeking to feel what one of your characters is feeling, draw from your own emotion memory bank. Use it to experience feelings that are analogous to what your character is experiencing. It was Stanislavski’s belief that we should never allow any exception to the rule of using our own feelings. What has been smelted in the furnace of your emotion memory, he said, is the best and only true material for inner creativeness.
6. Give your characters secrets. Their secrets will allow you to know them more deeply and will emerge in the story. Know where the character is coming from, what his wants, yearnings and fears are. Stanislavski cautioned that if you speak your lines, or do anything, mechanically, without fully realizing who you are, where you came from, why, what you want, where you are going, and what you will do when you get there, you will be acting without imagination. Characters don’t begin to exist when the play, or our story about them, begins. They each have a past. We need to imagine that past and everything else about them, as fully as we can.
7. Do a five-minute timed writing. Breathe deeply and relax your muscles before you begin. Aim at inner freedom as well as freedom from muscular tension. Begin with the name of one of your characters: “_______________
wants. . .” and go from there. Use Natalie Goldberg’s “keep your hand moving” method to eliminate the internal critic, the internal censor. Don’t cross out or edit. Don’t think. Lose control. Go deeper and deeper. Repeat the words: “____________________ wants” as often as you need, to keep you going. Do the same exercise, using the start line “____________________
fears. .. .” Keep your hand moving.
These closing quotes, from the chapter Stanislavski entitled “On the Threshold of the Subconscious,” evoke the excitement and joy of the creative discipline:
“You will remember that you begin all creative work by first relaxing your muscles.”
“Strained attention shackles you every bit as much as muscular tension. When your inner nature is in its grip your subconscious process cannot develop normally. You must achieve inner freedom as well as physical relaxation.”
“I want you to feel right from the start, if only for short periods, that blissful sensation which actors have when their creative faculties are functioning truly, and subconsciously. Moreover, this is something you must learn through your own emotions and not in any theoretical way. You will learn to love this state and constantly strive to achieve it.”
With any luck, we writers will sometimes achieve that state, grateful for even short periods of bliss.
(The reference to Natalie Goldberg’s method is to her book on writing, “Writing Down the Bones.”)
Imagine a strong rousing tune:
25 chapters to go, 25 chapters to go!
“25 Minutes To Go”
Johnny Cash (a hanging song)
“And the bottles are ten thousand strong.”
Johnny Cash with Ray Charles. “Crazy Old Soldier”
I want to thank Mark Wilber for his limitless patience and kindness in guiding me through the process of creating this website. Over the telephone! It took hours. I remember his first instruction, “Open your browser.” Dead silence on my end. “What’s the browser?” I finally asked. (Turns out mine is “Safari.”)
Mark is a physicist, an expert in space physics, also an expert in computers.
Stanford Rose (who commented on Inspiration for Creating This Website by adding a poem he wrote) is also a photographer. He has a series of ice photographs and another of the Painted Hills in Oregon. And more! View his website and see for yourself.
Thank you, Stanford Rose, for your original poem you added as a comment on “Inspiration for Creating this Website.” You’ve found the heartbeat of “Woman at the Window.” I am very grateful to have you as a reader.
This is a picture my oldest granddaughter drew when she was eight years old. That was almost six years ago. Yes, the book was a long time in the making. Probably fifteen years. Because I could only write it in spurts. I’d get an overpowering urge to write from that woman’s mind. Ten to twenty minute spurts of unchecked, uncensored writing. I “finished” several years ago but maybe she is still hiding in my imagination wanting to say more.
My granddaughter was fascinated when I told her about the woman at the window. So she drew me a picture of her. Isn’t it lovely? Isn’t it amazing I figured out how to make it appear on these pages? (With help from a friend, a different one.)
By mistake I had omitted the last eleven paragraphs of Chapter 17, She Begins to Take Responsibility. They are now there.
Thank you for discovering this world with me, for entering into the mystery. I awoke this morning full of emotion, not able to contain it all, breathless with gratitude for the people I have known. The movies we have seen. The books we read. The conversations. The thoughts shared.
I figured out how! Fifteen chapters are already on and I expect to add Chapter 16 of “Woman at the Window” tomorrow. They are all fairly short and a few are less than one page, so it goes fast. I do get lonesome though, and wonder if anyone actually IS reading it. It would be great to hear from somebody.
If there IS anybody, as Eeyore might say. Mournfully.